How Much Has Climate Change Cost Us (So Far)?

If It’s Melted, It’s Ruined

If your freezer breaks down and all your pints melt, well, that’s a tragedy. And while it’s difficult to calculate the emotional toll of losing all that delicious ice cream, the impact on your wallet is easier to figure out.

We’ve been saying for a while now that if it’s melted, it’s ruined. That’s true of ice cream, of course, but honestly, we’re way more worried about what it means for our planet. Recently we’ve looked at climate change from the perspective of social justice, the Paris Climate Agreement, and our own flavors. But today we want to focus on something far more close to home: our wallets.


A Climate Change Price Tag?

Some things, like retreating glaciers, species going extinct, or coral reefs dying, are difficult, if not impossible, to put a true price tag on. (Sure, Australian tourism dollars might decline if the Great Barrier Reef is totally bleached, but how do you really calculate the impact of the loss of marine diversity caused by that bleaching?) But some things related to climate change, like storm cleanup, for instance, do come with a pretty clear price tag, and we thought we’d take a look at some of those examples to get a sense of the immense costs we face as our planet warms and our climate becomes more volatile.


Keeping the sea at bay

Miami Beach, population 90,000, is a city built on natural and manmade barrier reefs located just across Biscayne Bay from Miami. Miami Beach now regularly experiences flooding on sunny days. Water isn’t merely inundating neighborhoods from the bay or the ocean, a frightening enough prospect; it’s bubbling up from the ground — and that’s a serious problem. Which is why the city is currently spending about $400 million to pump water and raise streets and sidewalks.


Climate change as an “opportunity”

The Dutch have led a waterlogged life for about 1000 years, as long as people have settled this extremely low-lying part of Europe. But the Netherlands doesn’t try to fight water — it learns to live with it. The sea will come no matter what, so the Dutch let it in, via amazing feats of engineering and urban design. Plazas and parks, for example, that can be enjoyed by the public on dry days serve as reservoirs for excess water when flooding occurs. With about 50% of the country prone to flooding, the Dutch have spent billions of dollars rebuilding infrastructure to deal with the reality of climate change.


Cleaning up after the storm

If the Dutch approach seems excessive, then consider the consequences of inaction: Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic storm system on record, caused about $65 billion in property damage and cleanup when it slammed into coastal New Jersey and New York City in 2012. New York City, given its huge population and susceptibility to flooding, was woefully unprepared for a storm of this kind. The city has since put aside something like $20 billion to deal with rising sea levels, but many critics feel that this is not enough.


Moving communities

If we’re merely reacting to climate change, then we’ll never keep up and the costs will keep rising along with the sea levels. What we need is resilience and long-term planning. Think about this: It’s going to cost about $100 million to move 400 people to higher ground from their village in Alaska, and the price to move a community of 60 in Louisiana is $48 million. While you’re mulling over those numbers, consider that as many as 13 million people are estimated to live in regions along the US coast that may be flooded by 2100. We’re not great at math, but that sure sounds like it’s going to cost a LOT of money.


The opposite of too much water

We hear a lot, understandably, about the oceans rising and bigger, badder tropical storms, but climate change can just as easily result in drought, which is what California suffered for years before recent rains refilled the reservoirs. In 2015, it’s estimated that the drought cost California farmers alone almost $3 billion. Dry weather also leads to an increase in wildfires, which cost the Forest Service about $2 billion a year to fight. 


The time to act is now

In 2015, the EPA put out a report saying that if the world does not act to cut carbon emissions, the US could face economic losses of up to $180 billion by the end of the century, but given the unpredictable nature of things like natural disasters, it could be much worse. But taking action will not only reduce those losses, it will save lives and critical wildlife habitat and help the economy. As millions of activists and citizens around the world, and an increasing number of politicians and leaders, understand, there is no time to waste. Climate change is real, climate change is happening right now, and every moment counts. Join with us now and demand climate action.