What Is Likely to Happen If Washingtonians Don't Address Climate Change

If nothing is done to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Washington is likely to experience some $3.8 billion in associated annual costs -- including $1.3 billion in health related costs alone. That will translate to about 2 percent of median annual household income by 2020, according to a report produced for the University of Oregon's Climate Leadership Initiative’s Program on Climate Economics by ECONorthwest.

If nothing is done to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Washington is likely to experience some $3.8 billion in associated annual costs -- including $1.3 billion in health related costs alone, according to a report produced for the University of Oregon's Climate Leadership Initiative’s Program on Climate Economics by ECONorthwest.

In addition, the report warns, "continuing with the activities that contribute to climate change potentially could cost Washingtonians almost $1.4 billion per year in missed opportunities to implement energy-efficiency programs and about $19 million per year in health-care costs from burning coal." Combined total costs, under a "business-as-usual" approach to climate change would jump four-fold to $12.9 billion, by 2080.

The UO's Program on Climate Economics is guided by a steering committee of 19 academic and private economists from Washington and other western states. Committee members also produce some of the program’s research. The report's lead author, Ernie Niemi, is a principal with ECONorthwest, a fellow with the UO's Climate Leadership Initiative (CLI) and a member of the steering committee. ECONorthwest was contracted to produce the assessment.

"Our research found that a failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would produce significant and continually rising costs for Washington households and businesses," said CLI Director Bob Doppelt, who managed the report. “There will be no business-as-usual economy in Washington under a business-as-usual approach to climate change.”

"Based on our analysis, Washington's urban populations stand to be dramatically impacted as increases in temperatures lead to increased occurrence of low-altitude ozone and other effects that will have a negative impact on human health," Niemi said. "These impacts under a business-as-usual approach to climate change will be seen as increases in illness, lost productivity and increases in premature deaths."

Health-care-related factors make up 32 percent of projected overall costs in 2020, 37 percent in 2040 and 36.5 percent in 2080.

The $3.8 billion price tag for 2020, which researchers say is a purposely conservative understatement, is based on 19 potential costs in nine categories for which researchers had sufficient data to draw conclusions. Researchers also listed another 21 significant environmental consequence for which they had insufficient information to include in the report.

Per-household annual costs -- $1,250 for 2020, $1,800 for 2040 and $2,750 for 2080 -- are based on projected population growth and were computed as a means to spell out the cost of inaction on a personal level, not as a recommendation of actual cost-sharing.

The report assumes that Washington, like many other states and countries, will not pursue "effective actions to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases, logging of native forests, and other factors that drive climate change."

"The probable costs of climate change are substantial, but the potential for catastrophic impacts resulting from greater climate sensitivity can't be ruled out,” said Peter Dorman, a member of the steering committee of CLI's Program on Economics and economist and faculty member at Evergreen State College. “In a way, reducing our carbon emissions is like buying insurance: It makes sense to absorb a small cost in order to reduce the chance of a disaster."

“The costs identified in the report illustrate the types of costs Washingtonians will face from uncontrolled climate change,” said Hart Hodges, another member of the Program on Economics steering committee and professor of economics at Western Washington University. “The report demonstrates that there’s a real chance we’ll face very difficult impacts if we do not act now.”

“These costs cannot be prevented by Washingtonians acting alone,” said Katie Baird, another program steering-committee member and professor of economics at the University of Washington, Tacoma. “However, what this study does is provide Washingtonians with a detailed and sober analysis of the likely impact a business-as-usual mentality will produce.”

Based on recent analysis, major climatic changes for Washington would include increases in temperatures, more extreme events such as severe storms, droughts and heat waves, decreases in snowfall and increases in rainfall and habitat losses for a variety of species along with a rise in undesired species and related diseases. The UO report also considers "the costs households and businesses would incur by continuing with technologies and behaviors that inefficiently use energy, even though more efficient alternatives are available at little or no cost."

Projected total annual costs of business as usual in Washington for 2020 ($3.8 billion), 2040 ($6.5 billion) and 2080 ($12.9 billion) are based on:

  • Increased energy-related costs: $222 million (2020); $623 million (2040); and $1.5 million (2080)
  • Reduced salmon populations: $531 million; $1.4 billion; and $3 billion
  • Reduced food production (primarily in the Yakima Basin): $35 million; $64 million; and $364 million
  • Increased health-related costs: $1.3 billion; $2.2 billion; and $4.4 billion
  • Lost recreation opportunities: $75 million; $210 million; and $612 million
  • Increased wild-land fire costs: $102 million; $208 million; and $462 million
  • Increased coastal and storm damages: $72 million; $150 million; and $352 million
  • Inefficient consumption of energy: $1.4 billion; $1.6 billion; and $2.2 billion
  • Increased health costs from coal-fired emissions: $19 million; $23 million; and $31 million

Complete sources for data collection and analyses are detailed in the report, which is available directly from the UO's Media Relations Web site (link below) and at CLI's Program on Economics Web site (http://climlead.uoregon.edu/programs/climate_economics.html).

In addition to Washington, separate reports were issued for Oregon and New Mexico. The reports were prepared by Niemi, Mark Buckley, Cleo Neculae and Sarah Reich, all of ECONorthwest, with assistance from members of the UO Steering Committee on Climate Economics.

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