As chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is well positioned to sound the alarm about the long-term financial consequences of climate change.
A memo she released to Senate Democrats Aug. 1 makes a strong case that without clear, decisive action today, climate change will burden the federal budget with future costs that will undermine the nation’s long-term fiscal health.
While climate change is often discussed and debated as an environmental issue, Murray makes a strong case that such thinking is narrow-minded. Global warming will have major repercussions on the nation’s economy and federal spending.
A recent poll of citizens in 20 countries by Ipsos MORI, a London-based market research firm, shows how suspicious Americans remain about climate change. When asked if it is largely the result of human activity, 54 percent of Americans said yes. That compares to 93 percent in China, 80 percent in India, 70 percent in Japan and 64 percent in Australia.
Maybe framing the climate change issue in clear economic terms as Murray did with her memo will help reduce the apathy that stifles a united response. Somehow the threat of climate change must be taken more seriously, and leave the arena of partisan politics once and for all.
The critics must be convinced that the costs of preparing for climate change pale in comparison to the costs of inaction.
Murray offered four sobering examples that speak to the economic and budgetary costs of climate change. They are:
Extreme weather: In the past decade, the federal government spent three times as much on disaster relief as it did in the previous decade. No one hurricane or wildlife can be blamed on global warming, but intense episodes of extreme weather are on the rise. The demand for federal disaster relief to help families and communities recover is on the rise, too.
Public works: The federal Department of Transportation provides about $22 billion a year to state and local governments to maintain existing transportation infrastructure. Heavy rains, flooding and heat waves associated with climate change will damage roads, bridges, drinking water supplies, stormwater treatment systems and wastewater treatment plants. Repairs and upgrades will take a toll on the federal budget.
Agriculture: Extreme weather includes heat waves and droughts that reduce annual crop yields, cause more livestock deaths and hurt farmers and agri-business, which, in turn, hurts consumers through higher food prices. The federal government operates a myriad of agriculture-related programs, including crop insurance and nutritional assistance programs, which will become more costly as temperatures rise.
National security: Military experts predict climate change will lead to increased political instability and conflict around the world, adding to the threats this country already faces here and at its military bases abroad.
“Using just these four examples together, climate change, if left unaddressed, will add tens and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal costs over the next decade alone, with much larger costs in later decades,” Murray said in her memo.
Murray makes the case that Congress has a moral and fiscal responsibility to combat climate change for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Is anybody listening?