Things are expensive right now, yes? Certainly in a dollars-and-cents-inflation way, but also in personal costs — parents exhausted for an under-5 vaccine, workers rebelling against going back to lengthy commutes for… what reason exactly? And the millions of family members mourning a million lives cut short.
Money and personal costs are always present in climate change discussions too: What scale of investment do we need in each solution? Where will money make the most difference? Who pays — and when?
But what we think about less is the cost of not doing something (frankly, humans are not particularly great at this in general). What are the financial and personal costs of not limiting global warming now? Can we even put a dollar figure on that to compare against the costs of removing the hold fossil fuels has on the world?
There’s been plenty of efforts to do so: in 2020, I wrote about research that put mortality costs for the state of California alone at $50 billion a year by 2050, and estimated 500,000 avoidable deaths by that time connected to climate inaction. The UN climate change report that garners so much dread also estimates the economic benefits of limiting warming to 2 degrees to be more than the costs. And the U.S. office of management and budget’s new yearly estimate put the costs of “business-as-usual” at $2 trillion per year by the end of the century. But that’s only the costs the agency felt comfortable modeling, NPR reports:
Climate risks to national security, changes to ecosystems, and infrastructure expenditures do not have a price tag attached to them yet. This also does not count the strain on other kinds of institutions. Looking beyond the federal government, the cost to public health and businesses “will be larger than the impact on our fiscal balance sheet,” wrote the report’s authors.
While $2 trillion sounds terrifying, it is also so large as to be meaningless to most people. So I was particularly interested in a tool released by the research consortium Climate Impact Lab this week that breaks down estimates of costs of inaction on climate change — including deaths — to the city level.
But the “Lives Saved Calculator” inverts the “what will it cost if we don’t draw down emissions” idea. Instead, it focuses on the positive side of that ledger: lives saved, primarily from the deadliest part of climate change - heat waves. It also estimates avoided adaptation costs.
But the part of the analysis I simply haven’t seen anywhere else before is estimating the global ramifications of local action. For anyone who’s said “What [insert state or city here] does doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things,” well, these folks have actual numbers for you about how it does.
For example, if Denver, CO transitions to 100% clean electricity by 2050, 7,300 lives would be saved globally by the end of the century, and $3.3 billion in costs would be avoided, the researchers estimate. If the city hits net-zero by 2050, those numbers jump up to 21,000 lives and $10.1 billion in savings. They’ve done these estimates for more than 20,000 U.S. cities. You can see the calculator at the bottom of this page.
The authors want local officials to use it to see the impact of their work — and I’ll be on the look out if any city plan cites this data — and what policies they’re justifying it with.
Thanks so much for the lovely recommendation for The Planet You Save from Clive Thompson this past week. It’s one thing for someone to vouch for your work to their own readers, but a whole other when they do so in a way that crystalizes something that you’ve spent too many words trying to get across.
Often these stories are about forward-looking action — i.e. where rooftop solar is going, where policy is headed, what local communities are doing … and because I’m a guy who’s characterologically (and sometimes pathologically) looking for the routes to action in a crisis, I really dig her focus.
This is a word-of-mouth only newsletter, so recommendations really matter. You don’t have to write a whole post — forwarding it on to a few people who might be interested is just as effective. If you’re a new reader this week, I highly suggest reading this first newsletter, and taking a gander around the archives - paid subscribers will see all the bonus Resource of the Month emails there as well). If you’re one of the readers using a RSS feed email, I’m curious to know how it translates: send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you missed Colleen and I’s Twitter space discussing prescribed fire — including the burn that spread out of control in New Mexico — you can listen back here.
Land too expensive for solar installation? This town is trying to float their solar farm
An Alaska borough is exempting renewable power producers from property taxes for 15 years to try to attract investment. Some leaders think that’s too long.
Of special note for local climate journalists: “Carbon bomb” projects could push the world past Paris goals if they go forward — and the US is the leading source of these planned emissions projects, including 22 sites that span the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado to the Permian basin.
Many of the homes that most need funds from the $3.5 billion weatherization assistance program are not getting them because of deferred repairs.
Heavy-duty electric trucks are actually making shipments now – what does that look like?
The unlikely ascent of New York’s compost champion.
This tiny Utah town could shape the West’s energy future.