A major new federal report concludes that climate change impacts already cost the federal government and U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars a year and that the costs will continue to mount.
In short, Congress’s own top watchdog agency — “the supreme audit institution of the federal government,” as Wikipedia describes the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) — just contradicted the entire premise of the climate policy of Donald Trump and the GOP Congress, which is to undermine domestic and global action.
The news is especially bad for regions that favored President Donald Trump in the election. The report from the non-partisan GAO warns, “The Southeast likely faces greater effects than other regions because of coastal property damages.”
In perhaps the new report’s most remarkable line, the GAO warns that, according to one major study, “the combined direct net economic effects for each state could range from annual benefits of 0.8 to 4.5 percent of economic output in Vermont to annual costs of 10.1 to 24 percent of current economic output in Florida by the end of the century” (emphasis added).
It’s doubtful that any state will benefit from the worst-case scenarios of climate change that Trump’s policies would lead to, but the GAO is certainly correct that climate change poses an existential risk to the Southeast (and Texas) — places that voted for Trump and repeatedly elect climate deniers to Congress.
The title of the report from the staid and cautious agency is characteristically bland –“CLIMATE CHANGE: Information on Potential Economic Effects Could Help Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Fiscal Exposure” — but the report’s language is straightforward and dire.
“The impacts and costs of extreme events — such as floods, drought and other events — will increase in significance as what are considered rare events become more common and intense because of climate change,” the GAO concludes. The findings, which are based on a review of 30 studies and interviews with 26 experts, provide further support for the stunning leaked final draft study by scientists from 13 other federal agencies, which we reported on back in August.
Here is an illustrative figure from GAO of climate change’s “potential economic effects” by century’s end:
Sadly, the GAO report is unlikely to move either the GOP Congress or Trump White House to change climate policy, in part because the facts are not driving them and in part because of the bland and conservative nature of the GAO.
Literally the GAO’s only recommendation in the face of devastating climate impacts that Trump and the GOP are endeavoring to worsen and speed up is “The appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President… should use information on the potential economic effects of climate change to help identify significant climate risks facing the federal government and craft appropriate federal responses. Such responses could include establishing a strategy to identify, prioritize, and guide federal investments to enhance resilience against future disasters.”
The sky is falling, and the appropriate entities should establish a strategy to do something about it.