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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Topic: climate change

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July 25, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Research starts to plumb the costs of climate change

Up until now, the school we might call the Climate Change Triumphalists has held that while human dumping of carbon into the atmosphere will cause some big problems, especially in poor countries, it will provide new economic opportunities. Chief among them is a rapidly melting Arctic Ocean that would open to year-round shipping and where perhaps 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its natural gas lies. Unfortunately, the trade-offs won’t balance out.

The most authoritative study yet comes from the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands showing that climate change in the Arctic would cost at least $60 trillion in damage to the planet. Yes, trillion with a “T.” Included in the list are more floods, wrecked infrastructure and destroyed crops. As Financial Times noted, “This is likely to end up creating costs that will outstrip any benefits by three or more orders of magnitude.” Cambridge’s Chris Hope said, “People are calculating possible economic benefits in the billions of dollars and we’re talking about possible costs and damage and extra impacts in the order of tens of trillions of dollars.”

One of the big drivers of damage will happen as permafrost melts, releasing methane into the atmosphere and accelerating a feedback loop of warming (something the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about years ago).


Comments | More in Climate change | Topics: climate change, Northwest coal exports

June 26, 2013 at 8:44 AM

Obama, the climate, the economy

President Obama unveils his plan on climate change in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images).

President Obama unveils his plan on climate change in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images).

I’ll have more to say about President Obama’s climate-change initiatives, announced Tuesday, in a column soon. In the meantime, some initial impressions:

It was a good speech, courageous, tough in many ways (“we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”) and long overdue. Only so much can be done by executive order. Only Congress could do the thing that would most address the greenhouse gases that are a heavy cause of climate change: Levy a carbon tax. That would be a game-changer because it would, for the first time, assign a cost to this pollution and make it more (and appropriately) costly. Alternatives would be competitive from a price standpoint. Fossil-fuel industries would have an incentive to do one essential thing necessary to prevent the worst: Keep most hydrocarbons in the ground. Without a carbon tax, any other efforts will be working the periphery.

On the other hand, he gives a good speech. How will the inspiring rhetoric about future generations and tough talk about using the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate CO2 mesh with the Army Corps of Engineers deliberately excluding a broad environmental study of coal exports from the West, including coal ports from Washington and Oregon? Mr. Obama has a history of drawing lines in the sand and retreating in the interests of compromise that never happens. It was also disheartening that he never mentioned Amtrak — facing devastating cuts in the U.S. House on top of funding cuts for short-distance trains — and under-funded transit as important tools to reduce carbon and give people choices, too.


Comments | More in Climate change, Energy | Topics: clean energy, climate change, EPA