Where it Hurts

A glowing earth in our handsI’ve often been told that the only way to compel people to “take environmental issues seriously” is to talk to them about the financial impact of their actions (or inaction). I suppose that I’m guilty of resisting that theory for I tend to assume that, for the most part, people are intelligent creatures who understand that we do rely on the “good graces” of this planet for our continued survival and well-being.

Perhaps I take an overly-simplistic approach to “environmental stewardship”: as we care for our houses, families and careers in the knowledge that they shelter and sustain us so, too, must we carefully protect the water, earth and air that allow us to exist. But I am willing to concede that others may not agree with that position and, instead, look to their pocketbooks for motivation. And so…

One example: The Mississippi River, the country’s primary highway for barge traffic, has dropped as much as 14 feet in the drought that has also devastated crops in the Midwest and triggered wildfires in the West. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged the Mississippi River almost nonstop since the start of the drought – with equipment costing taxpayers as much as $85,000 per day.

In 2008, the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER) released a number of reports addressing the economic impact of climate change. Here are just eight states that they examined.

(Note: The economic impacts are based on climate changes already in motion. Unabated climate change would likely increase these economic effects).

Colorado: More than $1 billion in losses due to impacts on tourism, forestry, water resources and human health from a predicted drier, warmer climate.

Georgia: Billions of dollars in losses from predicted higher seas along Georgia’s coast.

Kansas: Losses exceeding $1 billion from impact on agriculture of predicted warmer temperatures and reduced water supply in much of the state.

Illinois: Billions of dollars in losses from impact on shipping, trade and water resources. Warmer temperatures and lower water levels predicted for much of the state.

Michigan: Billions of dollars in losses from damage to the state’s shipping and water resources. Warmer temperatures and lower water levels predicted for much of the state.

Nevada: Billions of dollars in losses from a much drier climate and pressure on scarce water resources. Water limitations could affect tourism, real estate, development and human health. Many western states may confront similar challenges.

New Jersey: Billions of dollars in losses from higher sea levels and the impact on tourism, transportation, real estate and human health.

Ohio: Billions of dollars in losses from warmer temperatures and lower water levels and the resulting impact on shipping and water supplies.

Eight states – trillions of taxpayer’s dollars. And this is just a small slice of the global pie.

Matthias Ruth who coordinated the research and directs CIER states “If there’s a single bottom line in all of this research, it’s that delaying action on climate change carries a significant cost. State, local and national leaders will save money in the long-run by adopting a proactive approach.”

That was in 2008. Four years later, we still await the “proactive approach.” But then, we’ve known about all of this for so long. In the late 1950s, carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements were made on a mountaintop in Hawaii. Over the next decade, these measurements confirmed that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were rising year after year. In 1967, an early computer simulation suggested that global temperatures might increase by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on CO2 levels. Improved climate models developed over the next decades and confirmed the link between CO2 emissions and climate change. So we really can’t plead ignorance, can we? Somewhere out there Rachel Carson is saying “Told ya so!”

But, as always, I believe that there is hope – if we act decisively and comprehensively NOW. And, as always, it requires each one of us to make conscientious every-day choices and raise our voices through support, emails and, above all, our single greatest responsibility – our vote. Please examine each political candidate’s stance on the environmental issues that so deeply impact our finances and the well-being of future generations…and then vote according to your conscience.

Here’s an eye-opener for you, Georgia: http://cier.umd.edu/climateadaptation/Climate%20change–GEORGIA.pdf 

If what it takes is an assault on wallets, there you have it.


Image: Licensed by LikeTheDew.com at Fotolia.com
Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.