EDF Climate 411 Blog - July 24, 2008
12 State Reports: Cost of Inaction

Some people worry about the cost of taking action to stop climate change. But what they miss is the cost of inaction, which is vastly larger. These costs can be tricky to estimate because they're often indirect - for example, infrastructure damage from flooding, crop loss, or loss of tourist dollars in a ski resort area. But there's much good evidence that the cost of inaction is extremely high:

Now the University of Maryland, in collaboration with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), has extended its national report with studies of the economic and environmental costs of climate change in 12 different states (Colorado, Illinois, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee).

You can find summaries for each state on the NCSL Web site; the University of Maryland site has links to more detailed state reports. Eight of the reports are available as of this writing. The other four should be posted in August. Environmental Defense Fund helped to finance the research and production of the reports.

Some highlights:

  • The 2007 drought in Georgia caused $1.3 billion in economic damage, mostly from crop losses. An additional 5 percent of crop losses due to climate change would result in direct and indirect economic losses of nearly $110 million per year, and the loss of 533 jobs.
  • Colorado is a favored skiing and snowboarding destination, with 23 percent market share and $2 billion in annual revenue. If global warming continues at the current rate, the snow line could rise 1,312 feet, and the snow season could end 30 days earlier. A shortened ski season leading to a 1 percent annual decrease in tourists would cost $375 million and over 4,500 jobs by 2017.
  • In Illinois, flooding from the projected increase in heavy precipitation could cause significant damage to infrastructure. Flood damage has increased in recent years. Insured catastrophic losses were $272 million in 2007, ranking the state fifth in the nation.
  • Lower water levels in Lake Erie could cost Ohio's shipping industry and related businesses over $1 billion annually. Companies would be forced to spend more on harbor dredging, dock adjustments and other significant infrastructure changes.
  • New Jersey's tourism revenue exceeded $30 billion in 2005, and 70 percent was generated in coastal areas. Rising waters are predicted to claim more land in New Jersey than the national average due to local conditions that make the state's shoreline particularly vulnerable to soil erosion and land "subsidence" (sinking). By 2100, Atlantic City will flood to the current 100-year flood level every one to two years. If these changes led to a 1 percent decrease in the number of tourists, the result would be indirect economic losses of more than $3.7 billion by 2017, and the loss of 40,000 jobs.
  • Climate change threatens Nevada's water supply by further lowering water levels in critical reservoirs. New pipelines to meet current water demand in Las Vegas will cost the state over $3.5 billion. If climate change continues as predicted, drought contingency plans may not be enough, and development would be forced to halt. This would have serious economic consequences. Construction and related industries employ 17 percent of Nevada's workforce - about 157,000 people.
  • Manufacturing is the largest economic sector in Michigan, and depends on the St. Lawrence Seaway for cost-effective transport of goods. If water levels continue to drop, expensive channel dredging may be necessary. By 2030, dredging along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping route would cost between $92 million and $154 million.
  • In Kansas, the agriculture industry provides 40,000 jobs, or about 2 percent of the workforce. Increased flooding could cost the agricultural sector $150 million per year by 2032. Also, changes in winter temperatures and precipitation create favorable conditions for invasive species. A 1 percent per year increase in the persistence of invasive species could cause $58 million in damage, and the loss of over 400 jobs in agricultural and other economic sectors by 2017.

This post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense Fund.

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