Although much of the discussion about climate change impacts has focused on increases in temperature and the rise in sea level, changes that impact our nation’s water resources could have the greatest impact on society. A quick glance at recent newspaper headlines—heavy spring rains leading to massive flooding of the Mississippi River, historic drought covering large parts of Texas, and extensive wildfires spreading across Arizona—provides more than enough evidence of how vulnerable we are to water-related extreme events.
While these events have led some to ask whether they are caused by climate change, this question misses the mark. Individual weather events are not “caused” by any single phenomenon—and climate change’s contribution to individual events will not be resolved cleanly in the years to come. What virtually all climate scientists agree on, however, is that the climate is already changing, all weather events now form under different conditions than they used to, and this change is increasing the probability of extreme weather events happening. It makes sense to learn what we can from actual events and avoid getting caught up in an irresolvable debate about why a particular event happened. We would be better served by learning more about what is at risk from extreme events and what we can do to better manage and minimize those risks.
A recent interagency draft report, National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate, highlights both the extensive economic and social risks that we face as a nation from the impact of climate change on water resources and the critical steps we need to take to begin facing up to these challenges.
The report documents the changes in our climate system that are already evident and are likely to increase over time. Warmer air and sea surface temperatures and rising sea levels are only part of the picture. Total precipitation has increased by about 5 percent over the past 50 years, and the amount of precipitation that occurs during the heaviest downpours has increased by 20 percent. However, regional variations appear likely with increased precipitation in the northern part of the country while areas in the south, particularly in the southwest, are likely to get drier. The strengthened hydrologic cycle puts wet areas at risk of getting wetter while dry areas are at increased risk of drought. Areas dependent on water from melting snow packs may also face substantial changes as more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow and as earlier snowmelt changes the timing and quantity of water availability.
The implications of these changes cut a wide swath across our economy and environment. Water availability is critical in sectors as diverse as agriculture, electricity generation (hydroelectric, but also fossil fuel generation and nuclear power), heavy transport, mining and mineral exploration, and storm water management. Beyond economic factors, water is also critical to ecosystem wellbeing, wildfire management, and public health.
In order to more effectively manage these risks, and to enhance the resiliency of our water resource systems, the report sets out six general recommendations and 24 specific actions that should be undertaken by federal agencies and their partners. It calls for a more formal planning process, highlights the need for improved information, enhanced capacity building, better integration across related issues, and better tools for assessing vulnerabilities, and recommends expanded water use efficiency.
These actions are by no means a cure-all for the challenges we face in managing the increasing demands on our water resources in a changing climate. Nor are they a substitute for slowing the rate and magnitude of climate change through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The most effective risk management strategy is to avoid the risk all together. But with climate change already underway, we are too late to avoid some changes, and adaptation will be critical to reducing economic and environmental costs. We need only to look at the costs and suffering from recent extreme weather events to understand the risks we face.
Comments on the draft plan are being accepted until July 15, and can be submitted to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/adaptation/freshwater-plan
Steve Seidel is Vice President for Policy Analysis
It’s an issue that will affect the prosperity of our children and our children’s children. It’s an issue that requires we make cuts today in order to avoid far greater burdens on future generations. It’s an issue that is steeped in complexities and arcane detail that is difficult to communicate to the public, and often requires advanced training in order to understand fully. And it’s an issue that requires bold public leadership today in order to avert consequences that will affect future well-being and quality of life.
Readers of this blog can be forgiven for immediately assuming that these statements are meant to describe the political challenges of climate change; but the political issue du jour in Washington these days is the federal budget deficit and mounting national debt, and these statements apply for that issue equally as well. We, here at Climate Compass, are not the first to note the similarities in the discourse – but for those of us working in the climate field, or who care deeply about the issue, the parallels are hard to ignore. There is an important difference, however, that seems to affect the public debate.
While both are complex issues that are at times inherently difficult to understand, the budget provides a much simpler scoring system of dollars and cents; in comparison to the climate debt that we are accruing in the form of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We can see on a chart or graph the totals that budget projections show – and we know from our daily household experiences that increasing debts imply increasing interest payments and costs.
The climate deficit that continues to accumulate, on the other hand, shows no clear balance of payments or future due dates. But make no mistake; the charges we are putting against our climate credit card will eventually create even greater costs over time as changes accelerate. Greenhouse gases, once emitted, stay in the atmosphere for centuries. Any emissions made today, tomorrow, and over the next several years commit the planet to warming over the lifetime of those gases.
Even though it is not as easy to track the mounting costs of our climate deficit, we know the debt will have to be paid in the form of increasingly severe weather events, changes in agricultural productivity, mass migrations, and sea level rise – just to name a few. This means that the unchecked emissions we continue to create are racking up a greenhouse gas debt that will force increasingly expensive costs on current and future generations.
So as the debate continues inside the beltway on how to address the federal deficit – remember that in the case of both the budget deficit and climate change, it will be far less expensive to pay a little today and avoid paying far more later.
Historical National Debt (to 2009): Congressional Budget Office - http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/120xx/doc12039/historicalTables.xls
Projections of National Debt (from 2010): Congressional Budget Office - http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/120xx/doc12039/BudgetTables.xls
Historical GHG Emissions (to 2009): EIA IES - http://www.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm
Projected GHG Emissions (from 2010): EIA AEO, Table A18 - http://www.eia.doe.gov/analysis/projection-data.cfm#annualproj
Russell Meyer is the Senior Fellow for Economics and Policy
For many Americans, U.S. oil dependence has become a concern for reasons ranging from climate change and environmental protection to national security and the economic impact of higher gas prices. But there are other important impacts of our oil dependence, including how foreign oil contributes to the U.S. trade deficit and how rising oil prices decrease American jobs – both particularly salient issues on the current U.S. political agenda.
A recent article from Daily Finance shines light on the 2010 trade deficit, more than half of which is from petroleum-related products. In 2010, the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit was $256.9B, which represents a 29.6 percent jump from the 2009 petroleum trade deficit. This rise is largely due to increased prices, as the consumption of petroleum-related products in the United States grew by only 1.9 percent from 2009 to 2010 while the price per barrel of oil grew 31.1 percent to $74.66. An issue currently receiving a lot of attention in Washington, the $61B worth of cuts to the national budget sought by the U.S. House of Representatives, is equal to only one fourth of the country’s 2010 petroleum-related trade deficit.
Numbers that large can be hard to put into perspective, so let’s look at how this affects the average American. The graph below shows the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit per capita (left axis), which is closely related to oil prices (right axis). In 2010 the petroleum-related trade deficit per capita was $832 and has ranged from $600 to $1200 in the past several years. This translates into each American household sending roughly $2,155 out of the U.S. economy in 2010 to pay for oil.
Rising oil prices not only increase the trade deficit, they decrease the number of jobs in America. As energy prices rise, businesses and consumers must spend more on energy and thus have less to spend elsewhere. In his presentation at our recent conference on state and federal roles in climate policy, Mark Doms, Chief Economist at the Department of Commerce, explained that when the price of oil goes up by just $10 per barrel, it translates into a loss of tens of thousands of jobs per month, or up to a quarter of a million U.S. jobs per year. Instead of losing jobs in order to maintain our use of oil, we should focus on creating jobs by investing in domestically produced alternative fuels and vehicles.
In June 2008, oil prices spiked to $145 per barrel, and Americans paid for it at the pump as gas prices reached $4 per gallon. We could be headed into a similar situation, as oil prices rose above $105 per barrel earlier this month and are expected to continue to rise in 2011 and 2012. Because we rely on oil, a resource that is concentrated in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC, we face oil prices that are much higher than a competitive market would yield. This makes U.S. gasoline susceptible to price shocks, and American consumers pay more at the pump than they would in a competitive market.
Here we have highlighted two other important reasons why Americans should care about rising oil prices: they increase the U.S. trade deficit and can decrease domestic jobs. As oil prices continue to rise, these negative economic trends will also worsen. In order to mitigate the impacts of rising oil prices, we need to work towards a clean energy economy and promote the use of domestic alternative fuels and energy efficiency. This would decrease our oil dependence, making the United States less susceptible to rising oil prices while also creating more jobs here at home.
Monica Ralston is is the Innovative Solutions intern
On Friday EPA released its first cut assessment of the economic impacts of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act of 2009 (S. 1733), the Senate‘s response to the House climate and energy bill passed in June. Senator Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, unveiled the analysis along with new details of the bill she is co-sponsoring with Senator Kerry (D-MA).
The bottom line: EPA anticipates that the Senate and House bills will yield very similar results in terms of overall costs, allowance prices, and emissions. Some differences in key provisions could raise the price tag of the Senate bill by up to 1% over its House counterpart. As for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the tighter 2020 target in the Senate bill -- requiring a 20% reduction in emissions compared to 2005 levels, as opposed to 17% in the House bill -- would reduce cumulative GHG emissions through 2050 by about 1% more than the House version.
No, Chairman Bingaman isn’t lurking around the Capitol avoiding calls from his landlord. We’re talking about economic rent.
This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continued its excellent series of hearings on climate change policy options. At issue this time was a hearing “on the costs and benefits for energy consumers and energy prices associated with the allocation of greenhouse gas emission allowances.” Whether or not cap-and-trade programs were more or less transparent and costly than carbon taxes and fees was a topic debate during the hearing, as it has been throughout the series.
Dr. Denny Ellerman, recently retired senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, kicked off the hearing with some powerful testimony, including thoughts on how different carbon control programs create economic rent. He offered: