The social cost of carbon

A report released March 13 by three environmental groups makes the case that the social cost of carbon is far higher than the $37 per ton estimated by the U.S. government.

The costs of carbon — the including harm to human health, decreased farm productivity, and a growing rise in sea levels — should be estimated at a much higher figure, says a report from the Cost of Carbon Project, a joint initiative by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The latest government estimate by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget leaves out many specifics, such as growing acidity in oceans, spikes in food prices, increases in respiratory diseases, and damage to ecosystems.

Although the U.S. estimate was raised in November 2013 from $24 to $37, the new report says the estimate is still way too low. The report says there is a “downward bias” in how OMB measures the social cost of carbon because of other omissions, including forced migration, social and political conflict, extreme weather events, and catastrophic damages.

“What we know is bad,” said Gernot Wagner, a senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “What we don’t know makes it worse.”

The bigger question, of course, is: Where is the coverage of this? Where is the coverage of environmental issues, period? Thirty-one Democratic senators pulled an all-nighter on March 10 to talk about environmental issues, but they did so admitting that no environmental legislation would get passed this year. Republicans dismissed the talk-a-thon as a “political stunt.” Maybe if something concrete happened, people — and the media — would pay attention.

The full report, “Omitted Damages: What’s Missing From the Social Cost of Carbon,” is at costofcarbon.org.

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