National Geographic News
Intersection of Interstate Highways 10 and 310 just north of New Orleans, with associated loss of natural wetlands.

These highways near New Orleans could be impacted by catastrophic flooding and sea-level rise.


Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published June 24, 2014

A Tuesday report warning of dire economic consequences from climate change, from lost property to ruined crops, is the latest in a string of bipartisan efforts aimed at garnering public support to tackle the problem.

The new report is from a coalition of top U.S. political and economic leaders from the left, right, and center—including three former Treasury Department secretaries going back to the Nixon White House—and was reviewed by leading climate scientists.

"What we ultimately need is not just investment in resiliency to adapt to the outcomes we know are coming ... We need strong policy action to prevent the very worst outcomes, and I think that takes action by national government," said report co-chair Henry Paulson, who was Treasury secretary under George W. Bush.

Called "Risky Business," the 56-page report says risks posed by climate change over the next century include extensive property damage from catastrophic flooding and sea-level rise and severe disruption of agriculture in the American corn belt and Southeast. But it also said there is still time to act.

"If we continue on our current path, many regions of the U.S. face the prospect of serious economic effects from climate change," the report says. "However, if we choose a different path—if we act aggressively to both adapt to the changing climate and to mitigate future impacts by reducing carbon emissions—we can significantly reduce our exposure to the worst economic risks from climate change, and also demonstrate global leadership on climate."

As an example of how businesses might address climate-related risks, report co-chair and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he's moving one of his media company's key computer centers from lower Manhattan, which is at increased flooding risk, to upstate New York.

"I want to sleep at night," he said at a Tuesday press conference.

Report co-chair Tom Steyer, the retired founder of Farallon Capital Management, said that investors need to "get to a place where the calculation of a value of a company includes how they are handling this problem."

The report's GOP contributors were moderates, including Bloomberg and former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz, and follows a series of recent warnings from groups that included middle-of-the-road Republicans.

Last month, 16 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals released a report calling climate change "a catalyst for conflict" that may lead to instability and disrupt global networks of trade and resources.

But global warming remains a politically polarized issue. Gallup's March 2014 poll found that just 42 percent of Republicans think most scientists believe global warming is occurring, compared with 82 percent of Democrats.

A report released in late May by the conservative-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued that the administration's new rule would cost $51 billion annually by 2030 and lead to a loss of 224,000 jobs.

Here are five of the rmost dire warnings from Tuesday's report:

1. A lot of coastal property and infrastructure is at risk.

The report warns that within the next 15 years, higher sea levels and storm surges will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico by somewhere between $2 billion to $3.5 billion. Adding in potential changes in hurricane rates and severity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for all coastal storms to $35 billion.

"If we stay on our current climate path," the report says, "some homes and commercial properties with 30-year mortgages in places in Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana and elsewhere could quite literally be underwater before the note is paid off."

2. Farms face a significant decrease in crop yields.

Because of climate change, some midwestern and southern counties could see a decline in agricultural yields of more than 10 percent over the next 5 to 25 years, with a 1-in-20 chance of yield losses of more than 20 percent.

The report notes that food systems tend to be resilient and that higher temperatures may increase yields in the northern Great Plains. Still, there will be "risks for the individual farming communities" in the Midwest and South; such areas are likely to experience disruption.

3. Energy costs are set to rise.

Rising temperatures will likely require construction of up to 95 gigawatts of new power generation capacity over the next 5 to 25 years—roughly 200 coal or natural gas-fired power plants—thanks to increased cooling loads. That expansion will cost ratepayers up to $12 billion per year.

"Demand for electricity for air conditioning will surge in those parts of the country facing the most extreme temperature increases," the report warns, "straining regional generation and transmission capacity and driving up costs for consumers."

4. Expect more extreme heat.

Heat waves will become more likely in the next decades, especially in the Southwest, Southeast, and upper Midwest. This will threaten human health, labor productivity, and energy systems.

"By the middle of this century, the average American will likely see 27 to 50 days over 95°F each year—two to more than three times the average annual number of 95°F days we've seen over the past 30 years," the report warns. "By the end of this century, this number will likely reach 45 to 96 days over 95°F each year on average."

The report warns that by the end of the century, generally cool states like Oregon,

Washington, and Idaho could each have more days above 95°F each year than Texas has at present.

5. Extreme weather will be the "new normal."

The report warns that "the 'outlier' 1-in-100 year event today will become the 1-in-10 year event as the Earth continues to warm" and that "over time the extremes will become the 'new normal.'"

A warmer atmosphere will lead to stronger and more unpredictable storms. It will also make dry areas dryer and wet areas wetter.

Additional reporting by Christina Nunez

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

Benoit Azagoh-Kouadio
Benoit Azagoh-Kouadio

"Demand for electricity for air conditioning will surge in those parts of the country facing the most extreme temperature increases," the report warns, "straining regional generation and transmission capacity and driving up costs for consumers."

... and continuing climate change? Remember the part where humans kind of have a role in this whole thing.

faith rawding
faith rawding

Now that the non-believers can see it's going to hit their pocketbooks, of course they get interested. Instead of money to be made, it's already money lost. Something way more important to the 1% than life that will be lost.

Gerard Van der Leun
Gerard Van der Leun

This just in: Brian Clark Howard to legally change name to Brian Haywood Jablome.

And then there's "Additional reporting by Christina Nunez"  Really? Two people to read the same clips? Work, work, work....

Sue Kaufman
Sue Kaufman

So tired of reading trash and stupidity. What kind of educational system spits out so many bloviating boors??? Of course the climate is changing. Of course, there is too much pollution. There are 7+billion people living on a small planet built to hold maybe 2 billion, and 2 billion is pushing it. Open the eyes of logic and good sense and see that the future is not as stable a picture as the present, and the present is none too stable as it is. Overpopulation has led to all these other imbalances. Guess who will be bleating the loudest when war and terrorism truly become the way of all flesh. Be smart now.

Paul M.
Paul M.

You remaining eager "believers" and lazy news editors willingly ignore the fact that we haven't had a "Smog Warning Day" in almost 10 years and ignore the reality that we defeated the smoggy 70's when a river caught fire in Ohio. 

Fact; "Alerts", "Advisories" "Watches" and "Be Kind to the Air Days" are not measurements of anything let alone smog and are only "predictions" that a "Smog Warning Day" (real smog) "could be" issued within the next 36 hours. 

You eager "believers" also eagerly ignore the fact that you "believe" "beyond science's laughable 32 years of nothing beyond; "could be" and "95%". But the scientists are 100% sure the planet is not flat and CO2 "could" flatten" it? 

REAL liberals are open minded and "inclusive" and tolerant of opposing views but you remaining "believers" who goose step our children to your exaggerated greenhouse gas ovens are not true progressives as real libs would doubt, challenge and question ALL authority especially ones that condemn our own children the needless panic of SAVE THE PLANET. 

Fracking is safe but how would any of you doomers even know that when you are so anxiously being so determined to "believe" it isn't safe but fracking actually offers energy independence and with the continued wise use of oil we can continue our environmental successes and clean air 

But keep that finger on the panic button girls.

Get ahead of the curve;

*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.

*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

Donald Adams
Donald Adams

I can't help but wonder if there's a contrarian feature to this whole, already allegedly settled, argument. Kind of like in the securities investing field, when too many investors are thinking one way, watch out in the other direction! Or when everybody runs to the same side of the boat.

Has anyone here considered the distinct possibility of us coming into a solar condition like the Maunder Minimum of the late 1600's and early 1700's and instead of catastrophic  warming there might be a "Mini Ice Age"? It's right on schedule for later in this quarter century. Points 2 and 3 above will be valid either way but just don't be faked out and get caught leaning. I'm still not convinced about the cause of a rising sea level if it happens. Here in AZ we used to be at the bottom of an ocean and Atlantis, wherever it was, used to be on dry land. The sea rises and falls in long, already determined, cycles. Since there has been major debunking of some of the science used to develop what we know are flawed computer projection models and we know there is a solar grand minimum coming, we might be alert to the probability of extreme cold instead of heat.

John Patt
John Patt

@Paul M. Paul M. You never do anything to establish your point, only claim that since 97% of the world's scientists believe that global warming is man-made, and believe so because of relevant data, that we are not 100% sure and shouldn't act on it.

Dennis Paul
Dennis Paul

@Paul M. You are right about one thing: Climate change will not 'flatten' the Earth. Living organisms may be flattened or completely eliminated but the Earth will continue to spin and orbit the sun whether we do anything about climate change or not.

It does amaze me that people won't believe something when 97% of all scientific papers state that climate change is real and human activity is the cause but they will believe that they should chew sugarless gum when they chew gum when only 4 out of 5 dentists say they should.

craig hill
craig hill

@Donald Adams It was considered by a lot of naysayers that the Sun is exhibiting extra-added activity that wuld account for global heating until it was pointed out the Sun had been lacking sunspots over the last several years---IOW, nice try, but it ain't so. What cannot be denied is what greenhouse gases do, and how much we're roiling carbon out of the Earth. But i'm sure that runs against your ideology that misinforms you humans just can't impact weather because in your book humans aren't part of nature. Two more old-fashioned and outright dumb concepts you need to be educated about.  

Jim Petrell
Jim Petrell

@Dennis Paul @Paul M.  I keep hearing about 97% of scientists believe in global warming or is it now climate change. How about naming the 3% who do not go along with the 97%. Why is it only liberals that pull figures out of thin air like 97% of scientists......with out any facts to prove that number. I can say that there are 98% of scientists that do not believe. See how easy that was>>>

Frank Ran
Frank Ran

@craig hill Craig's response does nothing except show how he, like so man,y cognitive problems today.

His post is a string of strawmen and red herrings, ascribing to Donald Adams multiple assertions which Adams never made.

Where does Adams say humans are not part of nature? Does Hill know the Maunder was not about sun spots?

Why does Craig Hill not know the difference between the terms "climate" and "weather?"

It is actually Craig who is religious and close minded in his beliefs.

Craig, there has been no increase in the number of weather events. The increase Obama Mr. Obama recently trumpeted is NOT an increase in the number or intensity as he had claimed. There is in increase in damage in dollar value due to human development and increased dollars invested idiotically in coastal areas. Mr Obama was standing next to the Mayor of Hoboken NJ, whom he appointed to the White House "climate change" commission. She has no science background whatsoever. Developers have been putting billions into Hoboken which is artificial land reclaimed from a wetland/swamp .

You and the White House are insisting all of us underwrite the risk for those investing more and more in swampland (literal and metaphorical).

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam

@craig hill Most of those classified as "deniers" have no problem with the basic question "Has the Earth warmed over the last 150 years?" Sure it has. Most of those classified as "deniers" have no problem with the basic question "Is Carbon Dioxide a greenhouse gas?" Yes it is. Not a particularly strong one, but it is.

What we do question are the claims of impending catastrophe due to those facts. The strongest greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is dihydrogen oxide, more commonly known as water. It can affect things in two directions. As purely water vapor, humidity, it holds heat in. As clouds it reflects the sunlight out so we don't get as much heat from it. Overall, average humidity has been down a bit.

Let's see ... The energy we get from the sun isn't constant. Volcanos really cool things off for a while. Both oceans have several periodic heat states, like El Nino and La Nina in the Pacific and both the Pacific and Atlantic Decadal Oscillations. There's signs of other, even longer cycles, but we don't have a good enough dataset to characterize them. Our orbit changes. The tilt of the Earth changes. The magnetic poles flip which greatly affect incoming radiation for a while. We have the cycles of the ice ages. Low sunspot activity means a less active solar wind which allows more cosmic rays (and this really isn't science fiction) to impact the Earth which, in turn, cause more high clouds to grow.

It's been as warm or warmer than it is now 1,000, 2,000 and almost 3,000 years ago during the Medieval, Roman and Minoan Warm Periods and others evidenced just by ice core samples before those. The deepest cold period since the last full glaciation, called the Little Ice Age is generally accepted as having ended in the mid 1800s. Ice ages of whatever depth are ended by warming. Who'd a thunk it?

For all the claims about terrible weather happenings being the result of global warming (excuse me...climate change), in fact, there has been NO increase in the number of tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, forest fires and all the other catastrophic happenings blamed on it. Just here in the US we have currently gone the longest without a major hurricane hitting our coasts in all of our records. Bad weather happens and it's always going to happen, but there's no trend of it getting worse. 

The rate of glacier retreat since the end of the Little Ice Age hasn't gotten faster and the sea level rise rate hasn't hasn't gotten any faster, in fact it's been a bit slower the last few years.

Heat going into the oceans? Since 2004 we've had an array of over 3000 buoys (the ARGO system) taking temperature readings, not only at the surface, but even more than a mile below it. Guess what? The ocean isn't warming either.

The models show this or the models predict that. Guess what. The one thing the models have been the worst at predicting? Reality. CO2 levels have continued to shoot up, but the average world temperature has, if anything, cooled slightly in the last 15+ years.

Finally - that 97% consensus thing. The two questions that's based on were "Do you believe that the Earth is getting warmer?" and "Do you think man has had a significant cause?" Given the two questions and answers I put forward in the very first paragraph and the fact that the word "significant" to science types could be as little as 5% or so, I'm part of the 97% consensus myself.

John Patt
John Patt

@Diane Merriam @craig hill  Just here in the US we have currently gone the longest without a major hurricane hitting our coasts in all of our records.

Are you denying Sandy?


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