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Congress Plans for Financial Damage Caused by Ignoring Climate Change

January 4, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2019, file photo, large icebergs float away as the sun rises near Kulusuk, Greenland. Rising temperatures and diminished snow and ice cover in the Arctic are imperiling ecosystems, fisheries and local cultures, according to a report issued Tuesday, Dec. 10 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

WASHINGTON — Environmentalists and a South Carolina mayor warned Congress recently that climate change will take an increasing toll on the lives and finances of Americans if the federal government does not act soon.

They discussed how greenhouse gas emissions are damaging the real estate and agricultural industries while raising the cost of homeowners’ and disaster insurance.

Alfredo Gomez, director of natural resources and environment at the Government Accountability Office, recommended “investing in resilience” to harden infrastructure against climate change.

As an example, he said elevating homes and strengthening building codes in Florida and Texas already are proven to reduce damage from hurricanes and storms.

Without greater resilience, he predicted the harm from a warming climate would be “unevenly distributed across economic sectors in the U.S.”

It would include more coastal flooding along the southeast coast and lower crop yields in the Midwest, he said.

Gomez’s predictions to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on the environment were drawn from a GAO forecast of economic consequences from climate change..

It said that in 2018, weather and climate disasters in the U.S. cost at least $91 billion.

“Among other things, the government faces bigger bills for providing disaster aid and property and crop insurance,” the GAO report says.

It blamed the government for failing to plan adequately. Infrastructure projects, such as a system of levees in New Orleans built after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, could reduce the risks from coastal storms and flooding, the report says.

Democrats on the U.S. House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on the environment accused President Donald Trump of promoting economic policies that undermine the work of previous administrations to halt climate change. 

Rep. Harley Rouda, a California Democrat, said the measures of climate change include “literally counting the number of people who have died.”

Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist, said, “The social cost of carbon is too low.”

He was referring to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels that scientists blame as a major contributors to global warming.

The social cost of carbon is used by policymakers to set pollution standards enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators.

Under the Obama Administration, the social cost of carbon was calculated by considering the impact of emissions globally. The Trump administration considers only the domestic effects.

The Obama Administration estimated the cost of one ton of emissions of carbon dioxide in 2020 at approximately $45. The Trump administration estimates are $1 and $6.

Greenstone said the federal government needs to be more aggressive in funding research for technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

Stephen Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, said his city took the damage from a massive rain event in 2015 as “a call to action” against climate change. Catastrophic rain, fed by Hurricane Joaquin, killed 19 people in South Carolina and damaged more than 400 homes in Columbia.

City officials have set a goal of making Columbia operate on 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Benjamin was one of 233 mayors who signed a letter to Trump last year protesting his repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. It was the first U.S. plan that set limits on carbon emissions from U.S. power plants.

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