12 State Reports: Cost of Inaction

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

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.
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  1. mikes
    Posted July 24, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    There is no scientific evidence — none — that the climate models have any skill whatsoever at forecasting regional climate.

    Here in Kansas (mentioned above) we just had a bin-buster 2008 wheat harvest and the corn, beans and milo look great at this point. Since 1990 (the year the Sierra Club testified that “global warming” began in Wichita), we have had fewer 100° days, fewer 0° days, and more consistent rainfall than in the pre-global warming era. The GW prophets of doom couldn’t have been more wrong.

    In fact, the climate models are not doing too well on worldwide climate predictions: http://climatesci.org/2008/05/21/can-the-ipcc-model-projections-of-global-warming-be-evaluated-from-just-several-years-of-data/ .


  2. Posted July 25, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    For mikes:

    ignoratio elenchi n. A logical fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but has nothing to do with the proposition it purports to prove. Also known as “irrelevant conclusion”. [Lat. ignorance of refutation.]

  3. mikes
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 4:49 pm | Permalink


    My comments are only “irrelevant” if one hasn’t read the report and its predictions. I have read the report.

    If you go to pages 7 and 8 of the Kansas study you’ll see the data stops at the year 2000 and the “forecasts” pertain to changes from the values observed in 2000. So, climate conditions from 2001 to 2008 are very much relevant as a measure of the accuracy of the trends of the predictions contained in the report. So far, they couldn’t be more wrong as I said in my original post. This is not surprising as I doubt you would find any meteorologists on either side of the GW debate that believe the climate models have any predictive skill at level of an individual state.

    By the way, for anyone else reading this thread:

    “The study released Wednesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Center for Integrative Environmental Research, analyzed the costs of global warming on several states and was paid for in part by the Environmental Defense Fund.” (from The Kansas City Star)


  4. mikes
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    New paper published in Europe this week:

    Citation, D. KOUTSOYIANNIS, A. EFSTRATIADIS, N. MAMASSIS & A. CHRISTOFIDES “On the credibility of climate predictions” Hydrological Sciences–Journal–des Sciences Hydrologiques, 53 (2008).

    Here is the abstract in English: “Geographically distributed predictions of future climate, obtained through climate models, are widely used in hydrology and many other disciplines, typically without assessing their reliability. Here we compare the output of various models to temperature and precipitation observations from eight stations with long (over 100 years) records from around the globe. The results show that models perform poorly, even at a climatic (30-year) scale. Thus local model projections cannot be credible, whereas a common argument that models can perform better at larger spatial scales is unsupported.”

  5. Posted July 31, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Mike – this study has nothing to do with the study we posted about. The states report did not use modeling.

  6. mikes
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 8:39 pm | Permalink


    Suggest you read the report itself. Or, search on the phrase “climate change models” within the reports.

    The facts speak for themselves.