Climate change is here, real and already costing consumers, taxpayers, corporations and governments billions. Here's how:
1. Soaring weather disaster damages: The biggest threat to our economy, now and in future, is climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Short-term, Hurricane Sandy (worsened by rising sea levels) caused $82 billion in losses - economic harm that will impact the national economy, agree 100 major corporations including Time Warner, MasterCard Worldwide and Xerox. Weather-related disasters in North America increased five-fold in the last 30 years, costing $1 trillion in damages, says Munich Re, a reinsurance company. The record drought now impacting 60 percent of the U.S. is putting us on track for another bad year.
2. Fisheries threatened: Annual revenues from U.S. fisheries exceed $4 billion and employ one million. But the nation's commercial fishing is suffering as warmer waters disrupt fisheries and push schools northward. Superstorms are jeopardizing fishing fleets, docks and fish processing centers on all coasts. Worse, the oceans are getting more acidic due to carbon emissions - acidic seawater prevents shellfish from developing.
3. Tourism at risk: Florida tourism alone annually brings in $62 billion and creates more than a million jobs. Virginia tourism employs generates $31 billion. However, tourism will suffer as popular beaches erode, rising seas flood resorts, and freakish storms cause vacationers to cancel travel plans. Not to mention the economic impact on the beach vacation home industry. (Editor's note: In relation to the Adirondacks, one must also mention potential losses for winter tourism if a warmer climate leads to less snow.)
4. Endangered transportation system: Mississippi River shipping is a $180 billion industry that may suddenly halt this winter if river levels drop further due to exceptional drought. More than 20,000 jobs, $130 million in wages, and $2 billion in agricultural commodities are at risk if river traffic ceases for just two months, says Bloomberg Businessweek. Climate change is causing the Mississippi to suffer extremes - record rain and flooding in 2011, drought and low water in 2012.
5. Rising food prices: 2012's drought reduced corn production by 13 percent and soybean yield by 4 percent from 2011 levels - increasing food prices. Since cattle and pigs feed on both corn and soybeans, that also meant higher meat prices. Now the ongoing drought has destroyed 25 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop. Typically, U.S. food prices increase 2.5 to 3 percent annually, but in 2013 food prices are likely to rise 3 to 4 percent, largely due to climate change. Climate scientists forecast long-term drought for many of the nation's best food-growing regions.
6. Less water means less electricity and higher energy costs: Ninety percent of our electricity comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which need cooling water. In 2012, the Millstone nuclear plant, providing half of Connecticut's electricity, was forced to close for two weeks because seawater was too warm to cool the plant. Coal plants also require cooling water, and many are dependent on Mississippi barges for coal deliveries. Low water levels cause other problems: Hoover Dam provides electricity to 29 million people, but Lake Mead water levels have dropped 60 percent, causing the dam's electrical output to fall by more than 20 percent.
7. Climate change is economic death by 1,000 cuts: Drought, extreme storms, extreme heat, acidifying oceans and other climate impacts are hurting the U.S. economy - and that harm will only worsen. A new poll shows 88 percent of Americans want government to slow climate change, even if those efforts have economic costs.
The situation is serious. How can we avert catastrophe? Many scientists, economists, politicians, and legal scholars favor a carbon tax with rebates to households. See citizensclimatelobby.org and carbontax.org to understand why this is the best approach. Ask your representative and senators to support carbon tax legislation.
Rabbi Judy Weiss, Ph.D., of Brookline Mass., is a member of Citizens Climate Lobby, a volunteer group lobbying for carbon tax legislation to stabilize climate.