During a House Budget Committee hearing on Tuesday climate scientists and expert witnesses warned Congress that climate change could cost the American economy trillions of dollars.
Kentucky Democratic Congressman and budget chair John Yarmuth held the hearing to raise awareness of the fiscal impacts, in addition to the environmental, health and security consequences of a warming world.
“Without serious action to address climate change, federal spending will continue to rise on everything from federal disaster response, to flood insurance, crop insurance, and federal facility preservation and repairs – not to mention the increased public health costs,” Yarmuth said Tuesday.
Climate change will likely cost the American economy trillions of dollars, according to Solomon Hsiang, author of “Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus” and the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California Berkley.
Using real-world data, Hsiang’s research has measured how changes in the climate affect changes in the economy. Climate change will reduce incomes, exacerbate inequality, increase mortality and slow future growth, he said.
In one study, Hsiang estimated that Hurricane Maria setback Puerto Rico more than two decades of progress, he said.
“Hurricanes floods, droughts and fires destroy assets that took communities year to build,” Hsiang said. “Rebuilding then diverts resources away from new productive investments that would have otherwise supported future growth,” Hsiang said.
Two separate studies, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s own risk analysis, estimates that if humankind continues business as usual, the annual losses across industries could exceed $500 billion annually by the end of the century.
Climate change is already raising costs across federal programs including flood insurance and prevention and federal disaster relief, said Alfredo Gómez, natural resources and environment director with the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Crop insurance alone could cost an additional $4 billion by 2080, according to one report from the Office of Management and Budget.
Costs to these federal programs are expected to increase as extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, Gómez said.
Just last year the Department of Defense released a study that found two-thirds of its facilities — valued at about $1 trillion — are vulnerable to climate change impacts.
In order to build resilient communities and offset some of these costs, Gómez recommended the U.S. create a climate information system to provide authoritative, up-to-date research to help understand climate change impacts.
“We give billions of dollars a year around the country to build infrastructure and it’s those local folks, decision makers, state decision makers, that are having to plan and construct these things,” he said. “And they are telling us they need better information, forward-looking climate information.”
Several Republicans used their time during Tuesday’s hearing to attack the Green New Deal — a science-based proposal to reduce carbon emissions. Others noted the prosperity that fossil fuel energy has created in America and the need to support natural gas as a means to provide cleaner energy to the rest of the world.
“What if we did a better job of exporting clean natural gas to dirty coal-burning countries like China and India?” asked Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
Crenshaw said the U.S. should focus on gas exports, carbon capture technology and modular nuclear reactors to meet growing energy needs.
Director of the Climate Science Center Katharine Hayhoe said economic impacts will become more severe the longer the country depends on fossil fuels for energy.
Hayhoe, who helped author last year’s Fourth National Climate Assessment, warned that the country is not adapting fast enough.
“We care about the changing climate because it is loading the natural weather dice against us,” she said. “It’s taking many of our naturally occurring risks and making them worse in ways that affect us here and now.”