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Climate action is economically beneficial

Earth Resting Atop a Leaf --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

By Frances Lamberts

When he was “only” a businessman, Donald Trump expressed concern about the “immediate challenge facing the United States and the world today,” from climate change. On the eve of the 2009 UN Climate Conference, he signed an Open Letter to “Dear President Obama and the United States Congress.” The letter, published as a full-page ad in the New York Times, urged action to save the climate.

It noted business leaders’ optimism about United States participation in the international climate talks, aimed at setting targets for carbon emissions. This is important, it stated, since it is “scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet, if we fail to act now.”

Investing in a clean energy economy would be beneficial economically, the letter also noted. American businesses would play a leadership role, help stimulate the worldwide economy and increase our energy security, “all while reducing the harmful emissions that are putting our planet at risk.”

On November 22 this year, city Mayors from almost half the States, both red and blue and comprising nearly 31 million Americans, wrote an “Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump on Climate Action.”

The Mayors have committed, they state, to “bold action within our cities to tackle the climate crisis head-on,” it being “the greatest challenge of our time.” From extreme storms, wildfires and drought, disruption of agricultural supply chains and other effects, they hold it to be “a clear and present danger to American interests at home and abroad.” Its costs will likely reach $500 billion annually by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions are not decisively stemmed, and taking preventive action now “pales in comparison to inaction.”

A long drought and wildfires, fanned by a powerful “hundred-year” storm, killed 13 people and injured more than hundred in Gatlinburg last month. The financial cost from destruction of almost 1,700 buildings is not yet known but this Tennessee city no doubt would agree with the national Mayors’ statement to the President-elect:

“Simply put, we can all agree that fires, flooding and financial losses are bad for our country, [and] that we need to protect our communities … from the impacts of climate change.”

Even before Gatlinburg, 2016 had again seen a succession of “record” severe weather events. Tornadoes in four southeastern states caused $1 billion in damage in February, hailstorms in Texas $2.1 billion in March.

In April and May, torrential rainfalls cost Texas cities more than $3 billion, followed by historic rains and floods in West Virginia in June, in Ellicott City, Maryland and Lafayette, Louisiana in August, these causing several deaths and approaching $12 billion in damage costs.

The weather events matched another record: 16 of the 17 years since 2000 have been the hottest, successively, measured in global average temperature.

Mr. Trump’s concern about climate change, in 2009, and his support for international-treaty action to minimize its impacts, were entirely appropriate. We must hope that his intuition, then, will carry over into climate-protective action as President, as the Mayors’ letter urges.