The Most Expensive Solution: Do Nothing

This post is by Sheryl Canter, an Online Writer and Editorial Manager at Environmental Defense.

We frequently hear people worrying about the expense of tackling the global warming problem (an expense that is generally overrated). But what we don't hear much about is the cost of inaction. How much of a burden will be placed on our economy if we do nothing?

This is the topic of a study just released by the University of Maryland (and partially funded by Environmental Defense) titled "The US Economic Impacts of Climate Change and the Costs of Inaction". The upshot? Taking no action at all is our most expensive policy option.

Last year's Stern report also analyzed the cost of inaction, but at a global level. According to the Washington Post, Terry L. Anderson, Executive Director of the Property and Environment Research Center found this study more believable because of its targeted analyses of individual sectors in different geographical regions. "I have more faith in microstudies than the more sweeping ones."

The UMD report cites five key lessons:

  1. Economic impacts of climate change will occur throughout the country.
  2. Economic impacts will be unevenly distributed across regions and within the economy and society.
  3. Negative climate impacts will outweigh benefits for most sectors that provide essential goods and services to society.
  4. Climate change impacts will place immense strains on public sector budgets.
  5. Secondary effects of climate impacts can include higher prices, reduced income, and job losses.

The full report gives detailed support for each of these lessons, and concludes: "A national policy for immediate action to mitigate emissions coupled with efforts to adapt to unavoidable impacts will significantly reduce the overall costs of continued climate change."

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10 Comments

  1. piktograf
    Posted October 18, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Sheryl,

    My input on this will be a bit pessimistic. All these research studies, foundations, optimists and even "green" extremists will not turn anything around. I think we're all pretty educated here and we all know WHO runs this planet and HOW. Those individuals will not participate in any cuts of their revenue and profits, no way.
    What will happen in most is that some politicians will push some moderate level laws into they 4-yrs agenda to reduce something, but leave enough scrutiny for The Big Dog's lawyers to slow down, drag under and bury in papers all this complications. And finally, once we all start fighting for a glass of acceptably clear water then became a "Moment of Truth" and majority of people finally will realize that ANY economy model will ruin our society.

    Do you think I am skeptical?
    Is this planet make to year of 2007 because of human prosperous intelligence or integration? NO. It just a few years before the eco system will collapse. It was great until some egg-head moron discovered a wheel. Then slowly but surely people turned off from Nature and smart ways of co-existence and choose such a playful but self-distractive "rollercoaster" of technological revolution. Unfortunately, the only hope in this time is not lies on humans, we are too greedy, selfish, snobby and heavily immoronized overall, it's these aliens who planted us here in the first place.
    They'll do the job.

    Please leave those pathetic stances such as "We all stand together… We believe in humans as …bla-bla…bla" to the "Naples Jelly Fishes" cheerleaders.

    Am I "standing together" with whom? Donald The Trump? Snoop Dog, President Bush? I can continue… Or those 1.5 mlns of sons of a bitches who's now waiting for miracle behind bars? Or may be with the GM's CEO?

    It's too late now.

  2. Posted October 21, 2007 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    We are indeed past the tipping point, human helped or not, and it's much too late for reducing emissions to prevent huge sea rise and Gulf Stream shutdown. We could prepare, by moving inland and also planting, planting, planting. Both things would be good for economies, just need credit.

    When titanic glaciers melt or slide from land to sea, the earth flexes from the weight now dispersed. Earthquakes, tsunamis and lava flows result. This has happened many times. This is decades old information but is not mentioned in Inconvenient Truth nor stressed by Amsterdam based Greenpeace, California based Sierra Club, anyone anywhere, including those who cache the 2 articles below.
    We are not in the same boat as the big boys, who want global warming and deliberately encourage it. They point out we'll now have a Northwest Passage, the unicorn of shipping, and buy property in Colorado. They also sold the worldwide port operations of the Penninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company to Dubai. City boys stick the yokels.
    Don’t be confused by the motives of relatively small businessmen, such as Amana, 2nd largest U.S. air conditioner company which wrote to Bush administration in 2001 that 30% more efficient central a.c. unit regulations put in place by Clinton were no problem. WTO level is different. Remember that Standard Oil sold gas and additives to Germany through intermediaries during WW2.
    That some small earthquakes nowadays were leftovers from glacier weight accumulated over millenia then dispersed 10,000 years ago is standard information. I believe I remember it from Earth Science in 8th grade in Buffalo (1966-7). But with all my internet research on West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier etc. sliding, I never thought of weight removal implications, nor did I see any mention of such until the Ottawa Citizen 7/3/06 piece
    "Climate change could cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, scientists say" by Dennis Bueckert.
    ('Could" as in "Gravity could cause unsupported things to fall.)
    http://reports.discoverychannel.ca/servlet/an/discovery/1/20060704/discovery_climatechange_060704?s_name=&no_ads=
    We act as hypnotized.
    Why would people arguing for Kyoto etc. not bring up that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis result when ice slides from land to sea, and that they last a long time?
    Combine that with L.A. Times "Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Slip-Sliding Away" Robert Lee Hotz 6/25/06.
    http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/61/20733
    Starts off "Gripping a bottle of Jack Daniels between his knees … " and includes information of Greenland possibly being 3 islands under the 2 miles thick ice, so the center area is 1000' below sea level (numeral from other source).There is no discussion of the sea water thus running under and up into the glaciers, but there is a lot about the drill-like holes, produced in weeks below the unblemished surface, allowing meltwater down to the bedrock and so to the waiting sea. Note the increased seismic activity at the end and ponder implications. How’s West Antarctica doing under its unblemished surface?
    Reduced ice weight produces earthquakes.
    Earthquakes move ice.
    Repeat.
    Many, many choruses.
    Note that our leaders, including environmentalists, journalists and celebrities, have been ignoring these inevitabilities in their communications with us.
    Note that in the 6th century Justinian's great historian, Procopius, wrote of yellow dust in the sky that gendered famines, plagues and decisive wars. Lesser European plus Chinese, Japanese and Mayan sources concur. The post Arthurian Wasteland is a hint of this, but otherwise we've forgotten that climate changes have serious consequences. (Keys, Catastrophe, Random House, o.p. & expensive now though it went to at least 4 printings, available digitally via Amazon for $9.95, and searchable free for key words like Procopius, plague, slavery and famine to find a couple of pages at a time.).
    Note that cavalry men, filled with love for men & horses, ordered cavalry charges against well emplaced machine guns repeatedly from 1914 until at least June 1918, and in 1926 Brit. Field marshall Haig wrote "aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the man and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you have ever done in the past." (Ellis, Social History of the Machine Gun, Johns Hopkins U. Press, in print and searchable on Amazon).
    All visible are in denial, or pretend to be so in likeness to the rest of us.
    For more on subject google "Global warming policy is not complicated", plushtown, "furry logick". (Last is stuffed animal cartoons on subject.) E-mails saying convincingly why earthquakes under ice are not inevitable very welcome.

  3. Posted October 21, 2007 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    This link might work better for the Ottawa Citizen 7/3/06 piece
    "Climate change could cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, scientists say"

    http://www.climateemergency.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44&Itemid=110

  4. Posted October 22, 2007 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    piktograf – funny you should mention GM's CEO. GM recently joined US-CAP, a coalition of businesses that are pushing the federal government for national climate legislation (read more here).

    CEOs of major corporations understand this is important. Check out this great OpEd in last week's Washington Post, written by the CEO of a power company, calling for the federal government to cap emissions ("We're Carboholics, Make Us Stop").

    We're not past the tipping point. There is still time to take effective action – not much time, but it's not too late to avoid the worse consequences of climate change. A study at Princeton found that greenhouse gas emissions can be sufficiently lowered using currently available technology (see "Wedges").

    Feeling that it's hopeless and too late can be another excuse not to act, and we need to act now!

  5. Posted October 22, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Emissions will be curtailed when economies are slowed by coastal destruction and Gulf Stream shutdown, no need for agreements.

    Why have those who argue for preventing further warming never stressed catastrophic consequences, i.e. earthquakes under lightening ice pushing said ice seaward, causing more lightening, more earthquakes, increasing coastal destruction and releasing titanic chunks of fresh water ice into the thermohaline system?

    If not true, please say why. If true, why does no one use as argument against emissions defenders?

  6. Posted October 22, 2007 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Here's an article we posted just this week about the urgency of taking action: Why We Need to Cut Emissions as Soon as Possible. It talks about many of the dangerous consequences of global warming, and even includes a map of what Florida's new coastline would look like.

  7. Posted October 23, 2007 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Here's a quote from NY Times 9/8/07, Warming Is Seen as Wiping Out Most Polar Bears:

    "In a conference call with reporters, the scientists also said the momentum to a warmer world with less Arctic sea ice — and fewer bears — would be largely unavoidable at least for decades, no matter what happened with emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

    “Despite any mitigation of greenhouse gases, we’re going to see the same amount of energy in the system for 20, 30 or 40 years,” said Mark Myers, the survey director. “We would not expect to see any significant change in polar conditions regardless of mitigation.” "

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/08/science/earth/08polar.html?fta=y

    As sea ice goes, so does land ice. Except land ice gets earthquakes under it, will consequently slide. All projections about melting that I've seen, including "Why We Need To" above, ignore this, and have for the past 3 decades.

    Former permafrost increasingly releases methane, nothing humans can do about that at this point. Warming earth in England now releases more greenhouse gases than English industry.

    Here's a UK/Independent piece, mentions rain at the North Pole:

    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3021309.ece

    Same paper reports melt holes big enough to fly a helicopter into:

    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3021310.ece

    Here's UK Guardian saying Greenland earthquakes are increasing, no pursuit of implications:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/sep/08/climatechange

  8. Posted October 23, 2007 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Yes, but it doesn't say anything about eventual earthquakes.

    Here's UK Guardian piece saying Greenland earthquakes increasing:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/sep/08/climatechange

    Notice no pursuit of implications.

    Here's UK/Independent reporting melt holes, moulins, big enough for helicopter navigation:

    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3021310.ece

    From same paper, report of rain at North Pole:

    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3021309.ece

    Here's NY Times on usefulness of emissions curtailment:

    "In a conference call with reporters, the scientists also said the momentum to a warmer world with less Arctic sea ice — and fewer bears — would be largely unavoidable at least for decades, no matter what happened with emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

    “Despite any mitigation of greenhouse gases, we’re going to see the same amount of energy in the system for 20, 30 or 40 years,” said Mark Myers, the survey director. “We would not expect to see any significant change in polar conditions regardless of mitigation.”

    In other words, even in the unlikely event that all the major economies were to agree to rapid and drastic reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, the floating Arctic ice cap will continue to shrink at a rapid pace for the next 50 years, wiping out much of the bears’ habitat."

    from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/08/science/earth/08polar.html

    Note no discussion of human habitat currently depending on land ice not sliding.

  9. Posted October 23, 2007 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    We've talked about many of the dangers in many different posts. Take a look at the archives.

  10. Posted October 24, 2007 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Am looking at archives, haven't yet found speculation about earthquakes allowed by lightening glaciers pushing ice into ocean. Everyone stresses melting, not sliding, and have corresponding long time frames. Will continue looking. Sorry about my redundancies above. Will not happen again.

    In meantime, here is UK/Independent article from yesterday:

    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3087271.ece

    'Carbon sinks' lose ability to soak up emissions
    By Steve Connor, Science Editor
    Published: 23 October 2007

    begins:
    "A dramatic decline in the ability of the Earth to soak up man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, and a corresponding acceleration in the rate of increase of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, have been detected for the first time by scientists.
    The discovery that more carbon dioxide from human activities is lingering in the air rather being absorbed by the world's forests and oceans has alarmed scientists who believe that it signals a potentially dangerous turn of events for the global climate.
    They fear that a much-anticipated "feedback" in the global climate – when increases in carbon dioxide in the air trigger further increases in atmospheric concentrations of the gas – has already begun to occur decades before many predicted.
    "We always said that these feedbacks would happen in the future, but what this study shows is that these feedbacks are happening right now," said Josep Canadell, executive director of the Global Climate Project in Canberra, and the lead author of the study."

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