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Cher Gilmore: The costs of climate inaction

Posted: August 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.

One of the major arguments against investing in renewable energy is the cost, but let’s examine a few costs of NOT switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources.

A federal report from the Energy Department released last month concluded that by 2030, power plants and other energy infrastructure in the Gulf Coast region alone will be at risk from increasingly costly mega-hurricanes and rising sea levels to the tune of nearly $1 trillion.

Superstorm Sandy, second only in expense to Hurricane Katrina, singularly cost $65 billion. Furthermore, as infrastructure ages, the report projects an additional $20 billion to $50 billion to cover more frequent storm-related power outages.

Assistant Energy Secretary Jonathan Pershing warns, "All of our science goes in one direction: The damages are going to get worse."

The insurance industry agrees. Parts of the world may soon become uninsurable due to ocean warming from climate change, according to a new report from the Geneva Association, a global insurance trade body.

One area specifically mentioned was the state of Florida, which is already facing "a risk environment that is uninsurable."

The association, which includes executives from some of the world’s largest insurance companies, calls on governments to amp up their efforts to protect their cities and towns from the effects of climate change. In July, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $20 billion plan to do just that.

The number of weather catastrophes — including storms, heat waves, and wildfires — has risen from around 300 a year in 1980 to around 900 in 2012, according to Munich Re, a reinsurer.

Even more ominous is a new report from Climate Central that lists 1,400 U.S. cities that will be between 25 percent and 100 percent under water by 2100, even if we completely stopped putting carbon in the atmosphere today.

The sea-level rise is "locked in" by the effects of fossil fuels we’ve already burned, since carbon dioxide lingers in the air for decades with delayed effects.

We might expect coastal cities like New Orleans and Miami to be threatened, but Stockton and Sacramento?

According to the report, these inland cities are connected to the Pacific Ocean through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a complex system of marshes and levees.

By 2040, 25 percent of Stockton will be under water at high tide, and by 2060, Sacramento will suffer the same fate, according to the study.

By 2020, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach will be 25 percent below sea level, and by 2050, Marina del Rey will be 50 percent under water.

Port Hueneme, projected to be 50 percent below sea level by 2060, has started a $10 million project to shore up its beach using boulders and sand.

This study is based only on elevations and projected sea-level rise; it does not take into account potential engineering solutions or an aggressive program to stop emissions and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. Therein lies our hope.

Van Jones, in the book "The Green Collar Economy," shows how we can simultaneously solve our two biggest problems — our flagging, inequitable economy and global warming — by launching a crash program in conservation and renewable energy.

Jones points out, "If we are going to beat global warming, we are going to have to weatherize millions of buildings, install millions of solar panels, manufacture millions of wind-turbine parts, plant and care for millions of trees, build millions of plug-in hybrid vehicles, and construct thousands of solar farms, wind farms, and wave farms.

"This will require thousands of contracts and millions of jobs — producing billions of dollars of economic stimulus."

Another element needed to reel in carbon emissions is a fee or tax on the carbon released by burning fossil fuels to discourage their use. The Congressional Budget Office stated in a report this year that a carbon tax could generate significant revenues and avert catastrophic effects of climate change.

The most politically attractive carbon tax would be revenue-neutral; that is, 100 percent of the revenues would be returned to citizens. This has worked impressively for British Columbia, which instituted such a tax in 2008.

Since then, consumption of taxed fuels per capita has fallen 19 percent relative to the rest of Canada, and greenhouse gas emissions dropped 10 percent through 2011, compared to 1.1 percent for the rest of Canada.

All the while, British Columbia’s gross domestic product remained on par with Canada’s overall GDP.

Sweden, Iceland, Brazil and Costa Rica have even experienced booming economic growth while taxing carbon and investing in renewable energy. We can, too.

We can take action, stop global warming, and prosper. We can’t afford not to.

Cher Gilmore is a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby and a Santa Clarita Valley resident.


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