Robert Rubin, the co-chairman of the influential, non-partisanÂ Council on Foreign Relations, says the price of inaction could be the U.S. economy itself.
Writing in theÂ Washington Post, Rubin, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, argues: â€œWhen it comes to the economy, much of the debate about climate changeâ€”and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling itâ€”is framed as a trade-off between environmental protection and economic prosperity,
â€œBut from an economic perspective, thatâ€™s precisely the wrong way to look at it. The real question should be: â€˜What is the cost of inaction?â€™â€
He backedÂ theÂ Risky Business Project, a research initiative chaired by a bi-partisan panel and supported by him and several other former Treasury Secretaries. It reported in June that the American economy could face significant andÂ widespread disruption from climate changeÂ unless U.S. businesses and policymakers take immediate action.
In hisÂ opinion article in the Washington Post, Rubin argues that, in economic terms, taking action on climate change will prove far less expensive than inaction. He wrote: â€œBy 2050, for example, between $48 billion and $68 billion worth of current property in Louisiana and Florida is likely to be at risk of flooding because it will be below sea level. And thatâ€™s just a baseline estimate; there are other scenarios that could be catastrophic.
â€œThen, of course, there is the unpredictable damage from superstorms yet to come. Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy caused a combined $193 billion in economic losses; the congressional aid packages that followed both storms cost more than $122 billion.
â€œAnd dramatically rising temperatures in much of the country will make it far too hot for people to work outside during parts of the day for several months each yearâ€”reducing employment and economic output, and causing as many as 65,200 additional heat-related deaths every year.â€
Rubin believes a fundamental problem with tackling climate change is that the methods used to gauge economic realities do not take climate change into consideration. He wants climate-change risks reflected accurately, and companies required to be transparent in reporting vulnerabilities tied to climate.
â€œIf companies were required to highlight their exposure to climate-related risks, it would change investor behaviour, which in turn would prod those companies to change their behaviour,â€ he argues.
â€œGood economic decisions require good data. And to get good data, we must account for all relevant variables. But weâ€™re not doing this when it comes to climate changeâ€”and that means weâ€™re making decisions based on a flawed picture of future risks.
â€œWhile we canâ€™t define future climate-change risks with precision, they should be included in economic policy, fiscal and business decisions, because of their potential magnitude.â€
Rubin says the scientific community is â€œall but unanimousâ€ in agreeing that climate change is a serious threat. He insists that it is a present danger, not something that can be left to future generations to tackle.
â€œWhat we already know is frightening, but what we donâ€™t know is more frightening still,â€ he writes. â€œFor example, we know that melting polar ice sheets will cause sea levels to rise, but we donâ€™t know how negative feedback loops will accelerate the process â€¦ And theÂ polar ice sheets have already started to melt.â€
He concludes: â€œWe do not face a choice between protecting our environment or protecting our economy. We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environmentâ€”or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc.â€
The White Houseâ€™sÂ Council of Economic AdvisersÂ has estimated that the eventual cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions will increase by about 40 percent for every decade of delay, because measures to restrict them will be more stringent and costlier as atmospheric concentrations grow.
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