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The Costs of Climate Change and Extreme Weather like Hurricane Sandy
One year ago, Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in American history, made landfall on the East Coast. Twelve months later, the images of demolished landscapes and neighborhoods are still fresh in our minds. Hurricane Sandy brought extreme costs to our economy, wildlife, and livelihood. As we continue to exhaust carbon into the atmosphere, the frequency and expense of these extreme weather events will continue to rise.
Hurricane Sandy was a clear example the link between climate change and extreme weather. Scientists agree that climate change intensifies weather, magnifying bad weather events into catastrophes. Thomas Karl, the director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climactic Data Center said,
“If sea levels were not rising in those areas [East Coast], that’s not to say the effects of Sandy would not have been significant — but, what the analysis is saying is with the added increase of sea level, that makes the event incrementally worse.”
East Coast towns were economically devastated by the storm and, one year later, are still trying to rebuild. In total, Sandy caused over $65 billion in damages, took 285 lives and forever altered the lives of thousands of East Coast residents. Extreme weather events also have a huge impact on wildlife. Hurricanes, like Sandy, cause flattened forests, beach loss, mixing of salt and fresh water, and massive flooding which all negatively impact wildlife habitat.
As long as our climate continues changing; we can expect more of these costly weather events. A tool called the Social Cost of Carbon is used to measure the economic cost associated with carbon pollution. This estimates the cost over time of emitting one ton of carbon today.
The United States currently emits 5.6 billion metric tons of carbon a year. Using the most conservative estimates, this works out to approximately $157 billion spent dealing with climate change and its consequences over the next 40 years. While the Social Cost of Carbon is a great tool for estimating damage costs, it does not account for everything. As so many of those affected by Hurricane Sandy know, lives, homes, neighborhoods and wildlife are impossible to put a dollar value on.
Going forward, it is important that we take significant steps to address the threat of climate change, both near and long term. According to the World Bank, every dollar that is spent on disaster preparedness saves seven dollars in disaster relief. Disaster preparedness in coordination with strong climate action can help to minimize the effects of extreme weather.
If we can take one lesson away from Hurricane Sandy, let it be that we need to act on climate. Extreme weather events put our lives, wildlife and economy in jeopardy. We need to act on carbon pollution before the next Sandy, Katrina or Irene.