The mounting price tag of a warming climate

If you think it’s been hot and dry, well it has. This July has been the driest since 1960 with twice the number of hot days.

If you think it’s been hot and dry, well it has. This July has been the driest since 1960 with twice the number of hot days.

“(There was) only two millimetres of rain on July 17th,” said Roger Pannett, Chilliwack’s volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada. “July’s average rainfall is 46 mm on six days. To date we’ve had six hot days over 30 degrees C. The average for the month is three days. To date this summer, the hottest day was the record breaking 35 degrees C on June 30th.”

The consequences can affect water temperature and stream flows for migrating salmon but there’s a bigger picture being debated around the water cooler. Research is highlighting some alarming facts in the climate equation, especially the staggering economic cost that will soon stare us in the face.

A 330-page report Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet was carried out by the DARA Group, a non-governmental organization in Europe and the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Twenty governments commissioned the report which was written by over 50 scientists.

They stated that global warming is already costing the world $1.2 trillion a year which translates to a loss of 1.6 per cent of the world’s GDP. By 2030 that loss could rise to 3.2 per cent of global GDP with third world countries potentially bearing the brunt at a forecasted loss of 11 per cent of their GDP.

A recent commentary in the journal Nature on the economic impacts of a melting circumpolar Arctic puts the future in grim perspective. Countries with Arctic territories might see the region as the next great thing for oil (13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered supply), gas (30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered supply) and open shipping lanes. Figures floated for resource investment are in the $100 billion range.

But the calculated cost of melting permafrost alone, which will release massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, could spew a price tag of $60 trillion, just $10 trillion short of last year’s global $70 trillion economy. With melting ice driving up sea levels and greenhouse gases spiking temperatures, functioning Earth systems will power more extreme storms, droughts, floods and fires.

“What is really frightening is the melting permafrost,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada. “There was a new RCMP building built in Iqaluit and it’s already sinking into the ground because of the permafrost. We haven’t seen anything yet but wait until the permafrost releases all that methane. It will be runaway warming. Corporations are beginning to talk about climate change in the board rooms. The jury is already in that the climate is warming.”

A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the expert credibility in climate change confirmed that, among peer-reviewed climate scientists and researchers worldwide, almost 98 per cent agree that the world is warming and that human-caused greenhouse gases are largely to blame.

“The world is becoming more dangerous to live in because of climate change,” said Phillips. “We are not getting new weather. What is happening is that nature is twitching it up a notch making storms stronger, more intense. An increase of 25 per cent in a storm’s intensity increases the damage six-fold. We are seeing storms that are more intense and more frequent. Last year, Saskatchewan had 33 tornadoes. That’s more than Oklahoma! But we have crumbling infrastructure built for the past, not the future.”

The rapidly melting Arctic is an economic time bomb, a massive wake-up call for all governments to get up to speed not only with mitigation but help people adapt to what is to come.

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