New Report: Uncertainty Increases Risk in a Changing Climate

Sandia National Laboratories is at the forefront of energy and economic research in the US. The lab has a stake and understanding of how climate change might affect the US in the coming years. They recently conducted an analysis of the economic risks posed by climate change in contrast to the uncertainties. The findings present a stark reality even in a future with more balanced economic and renewable energy growth.

The study’s relevance is threefold. First, it focuses on the local. The models used have a county-level resolution. Second, the study also focuses on near-term climate change in the next 40 years. Many models, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are run up to 2100. While thinking far into the future can be good, it can also put a problem far off. This near-term, local approach to climate change puts it in perspective for the people being affected and policymakers.

Finally, the study looks at economics. Lead author of the study, George Backus notes, “Absent any idea of costs, the need to address climate change seems remote and has a diluted sense of urgency.” This also makes sense now, when money is on most people’s minds, reinforcing that climate change is more than an environmental problem.

Before talking about the results, it’s worth noting one other thing about the study: it’s raison d’être. Skeptics often use uncertainty in future climate change as an excuse for inaction. However, the study argues it should really be the opposite:

“Rather than justifying a lack of response to climate change, the emphasis on the uncertainty enlarges the risk and…validates the need to act protectively and proactively.”

How so? Put simply, uncertainty increases risk. If you’re certain the Patriots’ opening game isn’t going to sell out, you’re not likely to buy tickets in advance because the risk of missing out is low. However, if you’re not as certain it’s going to sell out, then you’re more likely to buy tickets as early as possible because there’s a greater risk of disappointment.

Climate change is clearly a bigger issue and the risks are much greater than Patriots tickets (that means a lot coming from me). The study from Sandia argues that if skeptics want to halt mitigation action, then they need to contribute to reducing uncertainty in future projections and prove that conditions will remain below dangerous thresholds.

So what did the researchers find? There’s good news if you live in the Pacific Northwest, California, or Colorado. Overall, climate change will likely benefit you. The news isn’t as good for the rest of the country. Overall, the US GDP could shrink by up to $1.2 trillion by 2050. The accompanying job losses could be as high as 7 million over that same time. The only sectors likely to make any gains financially are utilities, which will benefit from more renewable energy projects and higher energy prices.

Interestingly (or perhaps sadly), the most heavily impacted states are also represented by Senators that are least likely to vote yes on any climate bill. James Inhofe’s, the most prominent skeptic in the Senate, home state of Oklahoma is likely to lose 312,000 jobs and see $38 billion reduction in it’s GDP due to climate change.

GDP Losses by State Inhofe and other Senators skeptical of climate change should stop their baseless attacks against climate science. If they’re serious about inaction, they should take up the gauntlet of reducing uncertainty. Otherwise, they need to stop obstructing the crucial national insurance policy against the worst effects of climate change.

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