The soaring cost of climate change, especially for the U.S.


All those carbon dioxide emissions come with an enormous price tag, as well as damage to the planet.

A new study delivers more bad news about climate change: The U.S. is second only to India in experiencing the negative economic consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. The study projects the loss to be a whopping $250 billion a year in this country alone.

The study, by researchers at the University of California at San Diego and published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the social cost of carbon, or SCC, a commonly employed metric of the expected economic damages from carbon dioxide emissions. A basic definition of the social cost of carbon is the measure, in dollars, of the long-term damage done by the release of a metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions in a given year.

The study measured the effects of the social cost of carbon on each of the world’s nearly 200 countries. The four countries with the highest economic losses from the social cost of carbon are India, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, places fifth. The U.S. cost was put at $48 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions, while most countries, especially those in more northern latitudes, had costs of $10 or less per ton of CO2 emissions.

Why does this matter, besides the obvious conclusion that climate change is costing the world a lot of money in addition to the damage to our individual health and the health of the planet? Because Donald Trump’s administration wants to scale back the regulations now in place for greenhouse gas emissions.

Maybe the only way climate science deniers will believe the negative effects of climate change is if it hits them in their profit and loss statements. Because just as a country suffers economically from greenhouse gas emissions, that same country will have the most to gain economically from taking climate action.

To find their numbers, the study’s researchers used results from several climate and carbon cycle modeling experiments to capture the magnitude and geographic pattern of warming under different greenhouse gas emission trajectories, according to a news release describing the study from the University of California at San Diego.

Lead researcher Kate Ricke, who holds joint appointments with the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the country-by-country breakdown shows how wealthier countries can suffer more economic damage. “It makes a lot of sense, because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose,” she said.

The old U.S. estimates of the social cost of carbon also have been far underplaying the cost. According to the news release:

Among the most-trusted contemporary estimates of SCC are those calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The latest figures for global costs range from $12 to $62 per metric ton of CO2 emitted by 2020; however, the new data shows SCC to be approximately $180–$800 per ton of carbon emissions. What’s more, the country-level SCC for the U.S. alone is estimated to be about $50 per ton – higher than the global value used in most regulatory impact analyses. This means that the nearly five billion metric tons of CO2 the U.S. emits each year is costing the U.S. economy about $250 billion.

The study also blows up the Trump administration’s claim that CO2 emissions don’t have much of an economic effect, which it was using as an excuse to gut President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Here’s an explanation from InsideClimate News:

The Obama administration set its median social cost of carbon at about $42 per metric ton for 2020. It based that on calculations of the global harm being created by each ton of U.S. emissions. When the Trump administration came in, it argued that the social cost of carbon should only address the impact on the U.S., and it wanted a higher discount rate. When the Trump administration issued its cost-benefit analysis for rolling back the Clean Power Plan, it cited numbers closer to $3 per ton.

The Trump EPA proposal released in August, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, would give states the authority to loosen regulations for coal-fired power plants. The so-called ACE Rule would let 12 times more greenhouse gas be emitted over the next decade than would have been allowed under the Clean Power Plan. As explained in this story from CBNC:

The measure also stands to relieve pressure on the coal industry, a sector President Donald Trump has vowed to revive. Coal miners have seen their fortunes fade as coal-fired plants retire ahead of schedule, under pressure from cheap natural gas and falling prices for renewable energy projects.

Tougher regulation under former President Barack Obama put additional stress on the coal industry by requiring power plants in some cases to undertake expensive upgrades or shut down. On Tuesday, the EPA said Obama’s plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants was “overly prescriptive and burdensome.”

“The ACE Rule would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans,” EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

“American policy is looking backward to a world that no longer exists,” said another study co-author, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science. “It should instead be preparing for a future that is very different from the past.”

As for Wheeler’s claim that the ACE Rule would reduce greenhouse gases? That’s as full of hot air as the CO2 released by coal-fired power plants. Remember — there is so such thing as clean coal.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 30, 2018.

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