Leaders Highlight the Costs of Climate Change and the Benefits of Addressing It


When a single record-breaking storm dumped up to 10 inches of rain on Minnesota and Wisconsin last year, it left a path of destruction in its wake. Houses were flooded, roads washed out, and bridges rendered unsafe. Duluth Mayor Don Ness said the storm had done up to $80 million in damages to his city’s infrastructure. 

Duluth wasn’t alone. The government spent nearly $100 billion to respond to extreme weather events in 2012. Climate change—and the extreme weather it unleashes—is costing our communities enormous amounts of money. Yet we often fail to account for these losses in our budgets and plans.

Now three influential leaders are calling on America to do a better job of assessing the economic risk of unchecked climate change. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Former Chairman of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and businessman Tom Steyer recently wrote an op ed for the Washington Post saying:

“Government officials, economists, financiers and everyone else in the business community need to ask: How much economic risk do we face from unmitigated climate change? Answering this question would go a long way toward helping us all prepare for the extreme weather and related economic effects that are most likely coming our way.”

New York's Battery Park Tunnel was flooded by Superstorm Sandy

Bloomberg, Paulson, and Steyer have launched the Risky Business initiative to help public officials and businesses assess the economic effects of climate change by region and sector and determine how much climate risk they are willing to accept.

I applaud these leaders for working to provide comprehensive assessments of climate risk. Their initiative complements the Obama Administration’s work identifying the benefits of tackling climate change. As communities and companies prepare for extreme weather, it’s critical that we know the cost of unchecked climate change and the value of taking action to combat it.

Republican leaders, however, have taken issue with the administration’s effort to determine the worth of climate solutions such as energy efficiency standards and carbon pollution limits. Conservatives typically lead the call for cost/benefit analyses for government safeguards, but when it comes to climate change, some want to avoid a full accounting.

Republicans in the House have tried to pass amendments to make it illegal to use the “social cost of carbon” assessments. One measure, for instance, would block the Environmental Protection Agency from looking at the “social cost of carbon” for proposed standards unless a law is passed to explicitly allow its use. In essence, this amendment would have us believe that the cost of carbon pollution is zero. We expect to see more of these amendments now that lawmakers have latched on to “social cost of carbon” as yet another tactic for stalling climate action.

Americans deserve more from our leaders than this plea for willful ignorance. Arguing that we shouldn’t calculate the benefits of reducing climate change is just another form of climate denial. And indeed, those loudly attacking the administration on this issue have a long record of trying to block any action on climate change.

We need to know the climate risks we are facing and the benefits of confronting them. We need to use this information when we invest in helping hospitals and schools prepare for sea-level rise or embrace standards that will reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The Risky Business initiative and the Obama Administration’s efforts will help us calculate the best path forward.


Photo credit: Timothy Krause