Update: Since this article was originally published, some rather interesting new data has come to light. Namely, through natural disasters alone – particularly those three hurricanes – America was given a record-breaking bill of $306.2 billion in damages.
The hidden costs of burning fossil fuels to the US are nothing short of extreme. According to a new report, worsening air pollution, along with increasingly frequent or potent wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and droughts are hitting the American taxpayer with a bill of $240 billion each year, on average.
This will rise to $360 billion in the next decade if mitigation efforts fail, which, according to the research, is "equal to an estimated 55 percent of US growth."
The study, authored by the non-profit Universal Ecological Fund, carefully analyzed the costs of both extreme weather events and the direct and indirect negative effects that using fossil fuels will have on human health.
According to the researchers, this is only a partial assessment, as many more climate change-based costs are not taken into account here. Additionally, the data used for this report also did not include the damage caused by the ongoing Atlantic hurricane season, which is thought to be record-breaking in terms of its combined economic cost.
This means that this report is a conservative estimate, and the real figure is likely to be somewhat higher yet. This year, for example, already has a bill of $300 billion, and that’s down to Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria – and those persistent wildfires – alone.
“That is double the $145 billion cost of all hurricanes in the last decade,” the authors note in a press release.
This study is one of many that are hinting at a similar theme: burning fossil fuels are costly for multiple reasons. Increasing temperatures and poorer air quality make people sick and drive up healthcare costs. At the same time, climate change-exacerbated natural disasters don’t just destroy infrastructure and sink cities, but also eradicate agriculture, consume resources, and spread disease.
It could, potentially, get even worse: The authors of another recent notable study suggested that climate change-related phenomena could push America into an economic recession by 2100 that it may not be able to get out of for generations to come. As ever, the poor will suffer the most; the chasm of inequality will only widen further.
All in all, it’s expensive to not act on climate change and to be a climate denialist.
The report, however, isn’t just a tome full of bad news. As inferred by its title, The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States, it’s a call to action, one aimed squarely at the Trump administration.
The authors of the report – which include the former Chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Professor of Oceanography at Harvard University – explain that 500,000 new jobs can be created by doubling the nation’s share of renewable energy.
An extra 50,000 jobs in science and engineering would spring up if modest innovations in clean energy tech were made, and 250,000 more would appear if carbon capture and storage systems were constructed. A nationwide carbon tax could also generate $200 billion in revenue.
Money and jobs – a lingo that even the President will understand. Will he listen though?
The report sums up its sobering projections and optimistic suggestions with a timely statement by the late President Kennedy. “There are risks and costs to a program of action,” he once said. “But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”