Last Tuesday, as required by law, the Obama Administration released the third National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive, peer-reviewed scientific compilation on both the present and future impacts of climate change in the United States. This report paints a stark picture of the climate impacts already occurring across the country, and of future impacts if climate change is left unaddressed.
Climate change impacts reverberate across the economy, putting the nation’s transportation infrastructure, public health systems, agricultural producers, and critical energy and water infrastructure to the test. More frequent and intense floods threaten to wash away roads, more extreme hurricanes will test levees, and extended drought will destroy crops, reduce the nation’s food supply and increase costs.
These effects are also beginning to have a significant impact on the federal budget as federal spending for weather related disasters has been climbing steadily. Since 2004, there have been 72 weather-related disasters with total economic costs of more than $1 billion each, with $136 billion in direct federal costs in fiscal years 2011-2013 alone. The federal government will be forced to spend more money on repairs and rehabilitation of critical infrastructure and natural resources in future years. More intense wildfires, partly due to climate change, are damaging the nation’s forests. The 9.3 million acres that burned in 2012 was the third-largest acreage burned since 1960. As these fires increase, the U.S. Forest Service will face larger total costs. The federal government also partially subsidizes crop insurance premiums for farmers across the country, and, as crops are affected by more extreme weather due to climate change, taxpayers and farmers both could face higher costs. Finally, the frequency and intensity of tropical storms continues to increase, partly caused by climate change. To respond to two Hurricanes alone, Katrina and Sandy, the Federal government spent more than $150 billion. Not only have these hurricanes devastated communities on the Gulf and East coasts, it has significantly increased federal spending. These are just some of the costs of climate change that make it a real problem for the federal budget.
The costs of climate change are clear. As the United States thinks about infrastructure spending, it is important to take into account these costs, and what investments the United States can make to mitigate the impacts and reduce them. The most recent National Climate Assessment outlines how the nation is already starting to pay the toll for carbon pollution. It is also a reminder that as federal spending increases to deal with the impacts of climate change, it will put increasing pressure on funding for other national priorities, such as education, safety net programs, and national security.