Clean Air Safeguards Don't Kill Jobs; Pollution and Climate Change Do

Ron Craft is a fourth-generation cotton ginner in Plains, Texas struggling through a tough year. Earlier in the fall, he predicted business would drop by 75 percent, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to hire as many workers. “I’ve got those people that come back every year depending on me for a job, and I may not be able to provide that for them.” he said.

Craft’s business isn’t suffering because of the economic downturn; cotton producers are getting high prices on the global market this year.

Clark is unable to hire more workers because the majority of the Texas cotton crop died in the extreme drought gripping the state—the kind of extreme weather event that is increasing because of climate change. 

Republican leaders in Congress like to claim that limits on air pollution are bad for the economy and bad for jobs. Never mind these claims have been debunked again and again. But these assertions don’t just ignore the benefits of clean air standards; they also ignore the economic damage done by letting pollution go unchecked.

Take carbon pollution, the primary cause of climate change. Right now there is no limit on how much polluters can release of these dangerous emissions, and America is paying the price in the form of an unstable climate and more extreme weather.

In 2011, our country experienced 14 disastrous weather events that caused more than a billion dollars in damages each—an all-time record. Last month, the world’s leading body of climate scientists issued a report concluding that climate change is causing more extreme weather events and they will become even more frequent in the decades ahead.

Americans are already reeling from the impacts. The Texas droughts and fires have left farmers and ranchers with more than $5.2 billion in losses. They are not the only ones hit in the wallet. Like cotton ginners, farm-equipment dealers say sales are down by more than 70 percent. One supplier in Lubbock said, “That’s going to be my biggest killer right there, the harvest equipment. We’re looking at a pretty bleak harvest season.”

The opposite of drought can be just as costly. When Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, it caused more than $7 billion in damages and resulted in a loss of $1.3 billion for retailers during the back-to-school season.

Some people lost their entire businesses. Kory O’Hara, of Prattsville, New York owned a service station that had been in his family for five generations. During the storm, the station disappeared in the flooding. Other businesses in Prattsville also suffered. “Main Street is a total loss at this point,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of businesses that employed a lot of people.”

There is yet another cost from extreme weather events that economists are only now beginning to understand: health care.

In a new study published last month in Health Affairs, NRDC scientists and university economists looked at six climate-change-related extreme weather events that happened in the last decade.  These events accounted for more than $14 billion in health-related care costs and more than 760,000 interactions with the health care system.

Whether it’s a blistering heat wave in California that killed 655 people, caused 1,620 hospitalizations, and prompted 16,000 emergency room visits in 2006 or whether it’s a 2009 flood in North Dakota that gave rise to 3,000 outpatient visits, extreme weather generates steep health costs.

These kinds of punishing weather patterns will only become more and more common. NRDC’s new online mapping tool shows the record-breaking weather events that occured in nearly every region of the country in 2011.

But if we take action now, we can arrest the trend and minimize the damage. And we can reap the benefits of climate solutions. The new clean car standards proposed by President Obama will cut vehicle carbon emissions in half by 2025 AND save drivers $80 billion a year at the pump. The Northeastern regional cap on carbon emissions from power plants has already created 3,800 jobs and $500 million in economic activity in Massachusetts alone, according to a new study.

Failing to act on climate change is costing us millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. So let’s put American workers first and protect their jobs by protecting our climate.