Businesses and governments around the country should begin now to prepare for a future in which precious timber is lost to ground fire, factory equipment is inundated or swept away by storms and flood, and it's impossible to work outside on many days because of the heat.
All of these ill effects of climate change will do serious harm to the national economy, said a new report, Risky Business, issued on Tuesday. As a result, companies and governments should start investing now in measures to both stave off the worst effects of climate and to adapt to them—or risk paying an astronomical price tag later.
The report characterized itself as "a climate risk assessment for the United States."
It was produced by a bipartisan group of business and government leaders led by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, Henry Paulson, the former U.S secretary of the treasury, and Thomas Steyer, a political financier and climate activist who is the retired founder of the Farallon capital management group.
The report echoed many of the findings of the Obama administration's new National Climate Assessment, the product of peer reviewed scientific assessments. But this report was produced not by scientists but by economic leaders, and it examined the problems through the lens of risk assessment, a normal way for economists to think about future conundrums.
"Our findings show that if we continue on our current path many regions of the U.S. face the prospect of serious economic effects from climate change," the report said. "However, if we choose a different path—if we act aggressively to both adapt to the changing climate and to mitigate future impacts by reducing carbon emissions—we can significantly reduce our exposure to the worst economic risks from climate change and also demonstrate global leadership on climate."
The report outlines staggering damages to be paid if the nation remains on the business-as-usual course.
Hundreds of billions of dollars of coastal property will end up below sea level, it predicts.
By midcentury, the average American may suffer through around 30 days each summer with temperatures above 95 degrees, far more than is usually experienced today. By the end of this century, some places may have 100 days above 95 degrees in a single year.
The hot weather alone may cut worker productivity in outdoor occupations by as much as 3 percent.
The extreme heat may cut grain crops by as much as 50 percent or more across the breadbasket, although farmers are likely to do as much as they can to change their practices and save their crops.
The report did not attempt to set a single total dollar amount for the damages that the United States can expect to suffer from climate change in the years ahead.
But it warned that "the U.S. climate is paying the price today for business decisions made many years ago," and it said that unless comprehensive public and private responses are put into place there will be more of the same in the future.
The report posted especially dire warnings for people who must work outside, especially in the hottest parts of the country. In some areas, it said, heatstroke would be "a near certainty for the many Americans who work outdoors in sectors such as construction, utility maintenance, transportation and agriculture."
"One of the most striking findings in our analysis is that increasing heat and humidity in some parts of the country could lead to outside conditions that are literally unbearable to humans."
The United States has never seen this kind of heat.
Rising temperatures will reduce labor productivity especially in the southeast and southwest. In the Northeast, while there will be more hot days, the bigger impacts will be from sea level rise, inundating heavily populated coastal zones and exposing them to more storm damage.
The changing climate will also put severe strains on energy systems such as transmission lines, and it will increase electricity demand and costs because people want more air-conditioning.
The poor and the elderly will suffer the most, the report said.
The full report: