House Panel Looks at Economic Toll of Climate Change

WASHINGTON (CN) – The warming of the planet and related effects of climate change will impact the finances of American citizens, the U.S. economy and the federal budget, experts told the House Budget Committee on Tuesday.

In this March 30, 2019, photo, the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is visible as cherry blossom trees bloom in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

In the standing-room only hearing, lawmakers heard from four witnesses who delved into specific issues arising from climate change, including the physical change to American landscapes, the increased loss of life due to rising temperatures, and the financial cost to the federal government of combating these changes.

Katharine Hayhoe, political science professor and director of Texas Tech University’s Climate Science Center, said part of the problem is getting the nation on the same page. While 70% of Americans believe climate change is happening, only 41% think it will affect them personally, she said.

“We humans are in the driver’s seat and we are conducting an unprecedented experiment with the only home we have,” Hayhoe said.

Solomon Hsiang, a public policy professor at the University of California – Berkeley, said the university had used real world data in a study to identify how the nation would be affected economically by climate change. He said one key takeaway from the research is that climate change will cost the federal government trillions of dollars.

Another observation Hsiang and UC Berkeley researchers made was that climate change will widen the inequality gap between Americans. Poorer people will be more likely to spend money used for bills on means to stave off the heat, he said. Heat will also affect violent crimes, increasing the number of sexual assaults and murders by more than 200,000 over the next several years.

“For example, in a national analysis of many sectors, the poorest counties suffered medium losses that were nine times larger than the richest,” Hsiang said. “My colleagues at Stanford and I estimate that warming will generate roughly 14,000 additional suicides in the next 30 years.”

J. Alfredo Gómez, director of natural resources and environment at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, said climate change has been on the office’s “high-risk” list since February 2013.

Gomez said there are several areas where the federal government is poised to take large financial hits, including federal assistance for natural disasters, insurance programs for property and crops, and the operation and management of federal lands.

“Since 2005, federal funding for disaster assistance is at least $450 billion,” Gómez said. “According to the U.S. Global Change Research program, disaster costs are projected to increase as certain extreme weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change.”

Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, spoke largely about the possibility of increased fatalities nationally due to rising temperatures. Those weather changes will affect the amount of money Americans spend on adaptive measures, which some studies do not take into account, he said.

“Cost estimates that do not account for adaptation are not good estimates,” Cass said.

Scott Peters, a California Democrat who began questioning speakers during the hearing, noted the amount of people listening to the hearing and talked about getting more people involved in the conversation about climate change.

Hayhoe, the political science professor, said often the issue is not with changing people’s values or the ways they think, but focusing on what brings people together.

“We all care about our families, we care about our communities, we care about people who are suffering today, poverty, hunger and war, and those are the exact values that we need to care about changing climate,” she said.

Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican, said discussing climate change and its effects distracts from the House Budget Committee’s purpose. He said the committee has gone 57 days without passing a budget – its primary function.

Smith also slammed the progressive proposal dubbed the Green New Deal, an initiative aimed at curbing U.S. emissions that he said could cost $93 trillion.

“The numbers don’t work,” Smith said. “The Green New Deal that’s been discussed and Medicare for All, just two priorities [of] the House Democrats, would together cost $20 trillion more than the net worth of every American household.”

Kevin Hern, R-Okla., said one in five jobs in his state are dependent on fossil fuel production and the Green New Deal would adversely affect his constituents’ way of life. He said $90 million of Oklahoma’s revenue is dependent on the oil and gas industry and the industry as a whole generates more than $50 billion annually.

Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said the financial impact of climate change is one of the biggest issues facing his state. In 2017, 16 weather events cost the state about $313 billion in relief aid, he said, and one obstacle is getting information to the public.

“The Trump administration always prefers political fantasy to science and scientific fact,” Doggett said. “They’ve questioned and harassed so many scientists across this country, one agency after another that you have to begin to wonder if they believe in gravity.”

Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., said there has been a recent sense of urgency from her young constituents on the issue of climate change, but she has been hearing about the issue for more than 20 years.

Hayhoe said the urgency to deal with climate issues was so strong because the climate affects every aspect off human life.

“The first time that scientists formally warned a U.S. president of the risks and the dangers that climate change posed to our society was over 50 years ago and that president was Lyndon B. Johnson,” the professor said. “It is not, as you stated, our planet that is at risk, it is not even our species. It is our civilization, it is everything that makes our lives worth living and it absolutely is our economy as well.”

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