Thousands of people were forced from their homes when the so-called “bomb cyclone” storm hit the U.S. Midwest in March. The storm caused record flooding and tremendous property damage. On the other side of the world, a record cyclone struck Mozambique and surrounding countries, displacing hundreds of thousands and causing widespread devastation. February ended the hottest summer on record in Australia, which saw devastating fires and over 200 heat records broken.
Climate change is bearing down on the planet and it is only going to get much worse if we keep pumping tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. The warmer air holds much more evaporation from warming oceans, which then dumps onto the earth in torrential downpours--think Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Violent weather is becoming commonplace around the world. While some areas are subjected to monumental flooding, other areas suffer drought, crop failures, starvation and massive wildfires.
More people in the U.S. are realizing that we have an existential climate problem on our hands, but some are concerned by the claims of climate deniers that it would be too expensive to deal with the problem--to seriously and substantially cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. It will take dramatic action and trillions of dollars, but we simply have no choice if we hope to leave an inhabitable planet to our children and grandchildren. If we put off trying to fix the problem until it reaches intolerable proportions, it will cost much, much more and may be too late.
There were 14 weather and climate disasters exceeding a billion dollars in the U.S. last year, with damages totaling nearly $100 billion. The total for natural catastrophes in 2017 was over $300 billion. Those are primarily damages for loss of property. As the climate continues to warm, those costs will dramatically increase. For just one small example, increasing property loss claims will cause increased insurance rates, which will raise business costs and be passed on to consumers.
Large areas of the country (and the rest of the world) will be unable to sustain crop production because of drought, devastating downpours, or changing soil conditions. For instance, saltwater intrusion from rising seas is rendering areas along the East Coast incapable of crop production. Changing weather patterns will affect the type of agriculture that can be sustained in Idaho and other inland areas.
And, speaking of coastal areas, the ice sheets on Greenland and both of the Earth’s poles are melting at an increasing rate. The melt water is raising water levels along our coasts and threatening some of our major cities. If there is no concerted effort to cut carbon dioxide levels and hold the melt rate in check, the cost of protecting our cities from rising waters will be astronomical.
The 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment issued by the Trump Administration’s intelligence agencies warned that extreme weather events “can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.” The financial and human cost of that devastation would be incalculable.
It is time to get serious about trying to avert climate disaster and it is going to take a very substantial investment, which should create an enormous number of American green energy jobs. If we can poop away $1.5 trillion of federal revenue for an unnecessary tax cut, we can certainly find the money to save the planet for future generations.
This may all sound alarmist but there is much to be alarmed about. What do we have to lose by converting to clean, renewable, green energy? If the deniers are right and climate change is a hoax, we will have built a lower-cost energy system and developed valuable spin-off technology to fuel our economy. But, if we fail to heed the dire warnings of the climate and intelligence communities and they turn out to be right about the existential threat of climate clinic, we will leave our children an uninhabitable planetary hothouse.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.