Expert Tells House Committee Climate Change Could Wreck US Economy

Drilling operations at a rig in Alaska. (AP Photo/Judy Patrick, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Climate change impacts all sectors of the U.S. economy and on Wednesday, as lawmakers voted on whether to place moratoriums on offshore drilling and debated protecting the Arctic from oil developers in perpetuity, members of Congress also heard testimony that the U.S. economy could be crippled in the future if carbon emissions go unchecked. 

Marshall Burke, who holds a doctorate in agricultural and resource economics, studies the impact global warming has on economic inequality. On Wednesday he testified before the House Financial Services Committee during a hearing on climate change and macroeconomics.

The warnings Burke issued were stark: If, by 2050, the U.S. fails to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gases, the cost to the nation’s economy is an estimated $5 trillion.

If, by 2100, conditions are no better, the year-to-year damage of intensified storms, higher temperatures, rising sea levels and their cumulative effect on key markets such as the financial sector, real estate, manufacturing and customer service will result in damage in the tens of trillions, he said.

Solutions to tamp down carbon emissions are numerous. Some are more expensive than others. Some are more effective than others. But as Burke explained to lawmakers, however the plan may be budgeted, it must be backed up with the key elements required to stave off turmoil in the economy.

“The burning of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases are the cause of warming. Even if we fail to mitigate the effects completely, we will still have to adapt,” he said.

Adaptation requires problem solving skills and even that becomes more difficult if the world continues to warm at its current rate.

“Productivity drops when temperatures rise. Cognitive functions slow when a person is overheated. Hot temperatures literally make us dumber,” he said.

They may also make us more violent.

According to a June study by the National Bureau of Economics, aggravated assault, sexual violence and homicide increase when temperatures rise. The number of suicides increase, as well.

Congress invested $694 billion for the defense sector for fiscal year 2020, but little of this investment seriously takes into account the effect that climate change has on the U.S. military, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Stephen Cheney told members of the House Financial Services committee.

“Naval bases are going underwater,” he said. “Long term mitigation is the solution but as far as some are concerned, that ship has left port. Sailors are going underwater, all bases are threatened here and around the world.”

Parris Island in South Carolina had to be evacuated during Hurricane Dorian. Tyndall Air Force Base was destroyed by Hurricane Michael last year. Excessive heat at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg often shuts the base down. In Alaska, a NORAD base is sinking through melting permafrost. A U.S. Marine brigade in the Indian Ocean is about to go under water, Cheney said, rattling through a list of vulnerable bases.

“The sad part is when you look at the documents coming out of the White House and Pentagon, in their national security strategies, there’s not a mention of the words climate change. It did in the past. Congress must tell them to consider this a critical threat,” he said.

As testimony unfolded, elsewhere in the House, bills banning offshore drilling were debated before going to a final vote. Florida Republican Representative Francis Rooney’s bill, H.R. 205, which places a moratorium on offshore drilling in parts of the Florida Gulf, passed in the House, 248-180.

H.R. 1941, which blocks the Interior Department from leasing to oil developers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, also passed 238-189.

H.R. 1146, a bill to repeal leasing in a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was debated Wednesday but will not see a vote until Thursday.

While the bills may vault through the House, the Senate presents a tougher challenge.

During debate Wednesday, Republican Representative Rob Bishop quipped to Democrats: “You can bet your social security check these won’t get through the Senate.”

Senate Democrats, however, appeared prepared.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats, including Michael Bennet of Colorado, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Tom Carper of Delaware and Tom Udall of New Mexico, erected a safety net for the Arctic even if H.R. 1146 is doomed.

Markey’s bill, if passed, would designate 1,559,538 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, thereby barring development altogether.

As the climate crisis dominated conversation in the House, reports emerged that long time climate change denier and National Security Council adviser William Happer is expected to resign from his post Friday.

Happer, appointed by President Donald Trump last September, gained notoriety during his time in the administration for his failed attempt to form an official ad hoc panel intended to challenge long-established climate science.

His exit, according to the New York Times, was anticipated. Nearly 80, Happer reportedly only intended to stay for a year.

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