Climate change is here, it is real and it is bad

 The real questions to ask are: why should we care? Next column we will talk about we can do?
Photo: Hoover Damn showing diminished water levels

WASHINGTON, January 5, 2013 – Climate change is here. Climate change is real. There is no use denying it is made worse by greenhouse gas emissions. The real questions to ask are: why should we care? 

1. Disasters cost too much money

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the biggest threat to our economy, both long term and short term, is climate change. From a short term perspective, Hurricane Sandy (worsened by rising sea levels) caused damage and losses estimated by the governors of NY, NJ and CT at $82 billion. According to Munich Re, a reinsurance company, weather-related disasters in North American increased five-fold in the last thirty years, costing $1 trillion in damages. A group of 100 executives of major American corporations emphasizes that the damage from Sandy weakens the Northeast and therefore will continue to harm the national economy until repairs are made. 

2. Threats to coastal communities and businesses

According to the NOAA, U.S. fisheries have annual revenues in excess of $4 billion and employ one million.  However, in the Northeast, commercial fishing is suffering because warmer ocean waters force local fish to move north.  Super-storms jeopardize docks and fish processing centers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. On all our coasts, the oceans are becoming more acidic due to extra CO2, and acidic sea water prevents oysters and shellfish from developing properly. Beach tourism is another valuable coastal industry at risk from climate change. In Florida, annual tourist spending exceeds $62 billion, and creates more than a million jobs (not counting lodging and restaurants), but since almost 40% of Florida’s tourists come for the beaches, tourism is at risk if the storm season lengthens or intensifies. Similarly in Virginia, the tourism industry employs about 300,000 people making it the fifth largest source of jobs in the state, and generates $31 billion in annual revenues. However, the industry will suffer as beaches erode, rising seas flood popular tourist spots, and hotter, more humid weather or freak storms cause vacationers to cancel travel plans. In the Chesapeake Bay area, climate change’s rising sea levels, disrupt both the iconic blue crab’s natural habitat and threaten human homes in Delaware, the state with the lowest elevation. 


As atmospheric CO2 increases, seawater’s CO2 levels increase (measured by declining pH=greater acidity).



3. When a main artery shuts down many functions cease

Barge, tugboat and towing operations on the Mississippi River comprise a $180 billlion industry that may halt if river levels drop further after an extended drought, and reduced snow packs. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, more than 20,000 jobs, $130 million in wages, and the shipment of more than $2 billion worth of agricultural commodities are at risk if river traffic ceases for just two months.

Furthermore, barges bring fertilizer north to farmers, but if the river is closed to traffic, farmers will have to pay more for fertilizer to be trucked. According to scientists climate change causes the river to experience extremes, both the heavy rain and flooding of 2011 and the droughts and low water levels of 2012.



Source: December 17, 2012


4. Food prices increase as production and distribution are disrupted

According to the USDA, 2012’s heat wave and drought caused corn production to be 13% lower, and soybean yield to drop 4%, from their 2011 levels. As a result, prices for both corn and soybeans rose. Since both are used in animal feed, many meat growers reduced their herds so prices for meat and dairy products will rise in 2013.

Typically, U.S. food prices increase annually about 2.5-3%, but in 2013 consumers should expect food prices to increase 3-4%. According to the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, climate change poses long term risks to food supplies. Much of our food comes from plants pollinated by bees, beetles, birds and insects. Our long term food supply will be vulnerable as these pollinators suffer from the effects of climate change. 

5.   Less water means less electricity

Approximately 90% of our electricity comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants which need water for cooling. According to the Hartford Business Journal, the Millstone CT nuclear power plant, providing 50% of CT’s electricity, closed a reactor for two weeks in August 2012 because sea water was too warm.

Coal plants also require water for cooling, and many are dependent on Mississippi barges for coal deliveries (see above). The Hoover dam uses water from Lake Mead to provide hydro-electrical power to 29 million people in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona. However, the water level in Lake Mead has dropped by almost 60% causing Hoover dam’s electrical output to be cut by more than 20%.

As climate change continues, water shortages will lead to power shortages, higher electricity rates, and higher water prices.


Photos: Southern Nevada Water Authority


Most Americans understand that we cannot afford the costs associated with runaway climate change. According to a recent poll, 88% of Americans say they want the government to work to slow climate change even if efforts have economic costs. 

Next week we will consider ways in which the Federal government can help to control climate change.

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Judy Weiss

Born in NYC, raised in Cleveland, OH, I lived with my husband and our two children in NJ for 25 years. As empty-nesters, my husband and I relocated to Boston. I worked for many years as a CPA (MBA, 1980 NYU), but eventually went back to school to become a rabbi (ordained 2000), and then earned a Ph.D. in Bible (2009 JTSA). I now teach Adult Education classes in biblical topics in Boston. My husband and I have long been concerned with environmental issues and in the last two years I have been volunteering with Citizens Climate Lobby.

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