The bizarre economic calculus of climate change denial

It’s been the hottest month in the U.S. since records have been kept. This is obviously no surprise to those of whose who have sweltered through day after constant day of temperatures 10 – 20 degrees above normal. The frequency, duration, and geographic extent of this and other heat waves is exactly what we expect from a warming climate. The deniers will of course continue to deny (and let’s be clear; the term “skeptic” cannot reasonably be applied to those who insist that this is all natural fluctuation. “Skeptic” refers to those who withhold judgment until the evidence is in. “Deniers” are those who still maintain their position despite abundant evidence to the contrary, and 30+ years of peer-reviewed evidence all pointing in the same direction is more than enough to render those who would call themselves “skeptics” as bona fide deniers). But what is most astounding about the climate change denialists is that the large majority of them are the same folks who gleefully spend trillions of dollars in the war on terror and all that it encompasses–security theater at the airports, the invasion of Iraq, biodefense, radiation scanners at the borders, etc. etc. etc. Neoconservatives have readily admitted that the probability of a WMD being used by a terrorist group is relatively low, but that the consequences of its use are so severe that we must spend trillions to reduce that risk as much as we can. I’m not arguing against that point here. But let’s consider instead the adverse consequences from climate change, of which the probability is very high. Hurricane Katrina cost nearly $100 billion in direct damages. Hurricane Katrina was a moderately-sized hurricane that did not hit New Orleans directly. The frequency and severity of hurricanes will increase in a warming world. Droughts cost $6-8 billion per year. Drought extent, frequency, and severity will increase in a warming world. Damaging storms, coastal loss to sea level rise, increased wildfires, disruption to ecosystems–all of these are very costly, and all of them will get worse in the future because of climate change. That is not speculation; it is at this point settled science, and we are already seeing it in action. The impact stretched over decades, will be staggering. This is essentially a certainty. And yet nothing is done. Nada. Any attempt to do something is framed as an economy-crushing tax. You want to see economic damage? Just see what the business-as-usual model brings us over the coming years and decades.

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