The US economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change, according to a study released yesterday. The report, titled “Risky Business,” is the first comprehensive assessment of the economic risks of climate change to the United States. It was commissioned by a panel of influential business leaders and former government officials, including hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
“I have had a fair amount of experience over my career in attempting to understand and manage risk,” said Paulson, alluding to the 2008 financial collapse. “In many ways the climate bubble is actually more cruel and more perverse.”
Among the study’s conclusions:
• By 2050, between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of coastal property will likely be below sea level, rising to $238 billion to $507 billion by 2100.
• Extreme storms and hurricanes will likely cause damages exceeding $42 billion annually along the eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast.
• Labor productivity, of outdoor workers, such as in construction, utility maintenance, landscaping and agriculture, particularly in the Southeast, could shrink by as much as 3 percent due to the projected number of days with temperatures topping 95 degrees.
• Agricultural yields could plummet by as much as 70 percent due to extreme heat waves.
The general outlines of the impacts of climate change on the United States have been detailed in series of reports released this year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences.
The novelty of the “Risky Business” report, however, is in its detailed assessment of the consequences of climate change on specific economic sectors and by region.
If there is a simple takeway offered by co-chairs Paulson, Bloomberg and Steyer, it’s that the cost of inaction over the long term greatly exceeds the cost of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change in the short term.
“If we act quickly we can avoid the very worst outcomes,” said Paulson during a New York City press conference.
It’s a message that has begun to gain traction among corporate elites, like Greg Page, executive chairman and former CEO of Cargill, Inc., who participated in the high-level “Risk Committee” that developed the scope of the report and approved its findings.
Cargill is the largest privately held company in the United States, and its political contributions skew heavily—about 4 to 1—in favor of Republican members of Congress, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Page’s participation in the “Risky Business” report stands in stark contrast to the executives of the nation’s second-largest privately held corporation—Koch Industries. While the political largess of the billionaire Koch brothers dwarfs that of Cargill, Page’s call for action on climate change could have ripple effects across US political and business communities.