Trump’s Refusal to Act on Climate Could Cost Trillions of Dollars Every Year — for Decades

by Tim Donaghy

December 6, 2016

Donald Trump has made many promises about jobs and the economy, but it’s his decisions on climate change and fossil fuels that could end up costing American workers for decades to come.

Donald Trump

Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr. Creative Commons.

When it comes to climate policy, president-elect Donald Trump is playing a losing game.

Momentum behind the clean energy revolution will keep it rolling with or without Trump’s approval, and the rest of the world doesn’t have to follow his lead. The age of fossil fuels is quickly coming to a close and renewable energy is only poised to expand and improve. A global movement for climate justice has gathered and will not be turned aside by one orange bully.

In the long run, we will win. But when it comes to averting specific dangers, time is not on our side. With climate change, we can’t simply pick up where we left off four years from now. Every year of delay is costing us money, dragging down economic growth, and creating fewer jobs than we could have under a clean energy economy.

All of us, but especially younger generations, will be paying these climate costs in the form of higher taxes, higher insurance premiums, higher consumer prices, and more.

Think of it as Trump’s secret climate tax.

The Costs of Delayed Action on Climate Change

A 2014 economic report from the Obama White House found that delayed action on climate change will cost us in at least two ways.

First, delaying action could lead to higher temperatures. Instead of limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius — which would require immediate and significant policy action — we might see temperatures rise by 3 degrees, 4 degrees, or higher. Higher temperatures mean more severe impacts from rising sea levels, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, crop failures, air pollution, public health costs, and more.

Allowing that to happen would be a particularly expensive mistake for Trump to make.

A prominent (although quite conservative) economic model found that allowing temperature to rise to 3 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees would lead to added economic damages equivalent to 0.9 percent of total global economic output. Allowing temperatures to rise to 4 degrees Celsius would be even worse — total damages of 2.1 percent of global output compared with 2 degrees.

Given that total global economic output was around $100 trillion in 2014, we are talking about total costs in the trillions of dollars. Every single year. For decades.

Second, delaying action will make it more expensive for us to hit crucial global climate targets. After four years of Trump, it might still be technically possible to turn the ship around and limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but it could require even faster deployment of renewable energy in a shorter time frame. In other words, hitting pause for four years would make the job harder and more expensive. The same economic review found that the net cost of climate action increases 40 percent for each decade of inaction.

The bottom line: investing in clean energy is cheap, but delaying is quite expensive.

Green Jobs, Green Growth For All

If that’s how much delay will cost us going forward, it’s also worth asking how much we’ve already paid for the decades of delay that have passed.

Scientists, including Exxon’s own in-house experts, have known the risks of climate change since at least the 1970s. We find ourselves on the cusp of 2 degrees Celsius of warming largely because politicians in years past have kicked the can down the road — and because of an Exxon-funded campaign that spread climate science denial through the corridors of power.

Now, many of those same architects of delay are back in power, pulling the strings for the incoming Trump administration. With their support, Trump has pledged to uproot the Clean Power Plan and Obama’s automobile fuel economy standards, open up more federal lands and waters to fossil fuel extraction, and withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Of course, multiple studies have shown that boosting clean energy and meeting our climate targets will actually create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Businesses are already noticing that climate change is bad for their bottom line and more and more are investing in renewables to power their operations.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Trump gets any of this. He famously adopts the opinion of the last person he has spoken with (in this case it appears to be Chief of Climate Deniers Staff Reince Priebus), but has surrounded himself with a circle of climate deniers, energy executives, lobbyists, swamp things, and racists. (And Ivanka.)

It’s going to take a movement to stop Trump and keep the clean energy revolution going — and that movement starts with you.

Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

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