Forests decimated by drought and wildfire from Montana to California. Homes blasted by hurricanes and flooding from North Carolina to Texas.
Climate change, according to scientists, is already fueling natural disasters across the United States, causing billions of dollars worth of devastation.
Now a new report from UC San Diego and the Brookings Institution predicts the states that could suffer the harshest economic toll from global warming are those that voted for President Donald Trump and other conservative politicians opposed to reining in greenhouse gases.
“The damages to the Republican-electing congressional districts is almost double what it is for the Democratic-voting districts,” said David Victor, a researcher at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and a prominent contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“The political alignment around climate impacts is almost the exact opposite of the political alignment around emissions control,” he added.
A number of red states, such as Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, could see their economies slashed by more than 10 percent by the end of the century, with some regions seeing impacts over 20 percent, if the planet continues to warm unabated, the study found. Many left-leaning states, such as Illinois and California, are predicted to suffer losses under 5 percent.
Factors include everything from energy costs to agricultural yields to coastal damage to working conditions and heat-related mortality.
“When you look at the out years, all of these factors have an impact on what people care about, but the really dominant effect is mortality,” Victor said. “Literally, there’ll be climate change killing people.”
Still, the country may be able to adapt to such impacts better than researchers can currently foresee. The paper recognizes this shortcoming, saying the findings are “less of a forecast than a representation of a world where previously observed relationship continue to hold.”
The data also found that some regions, including San Diego, may see a financial boost from climate change in coming decades. Warming is expected to particularly benefit northern parts of the country, expanding growing seasons and curbing energy consumption.
The authors of the study relied on an analysis developed by the Climate Impact Lab, a collaboration of climate scientist, economists and other experts, including from UC Berkeley and University of Chicago.
According to the model, the country as a whole could take a 1.2 percent hit on its gross domestic product for every one degree Celsius rise on average.
“In the south, where it’s hot, and along the coasts, we might see populations losing the equivalent of 20 percent of their income, whereas in the cooler northern and western regions, we actually see that populations might benefit a little,” said Solomon Hsiang, co-director of the Climate Impact Lab and chancellor’s associate professor of public policy at UC Berkeley.
“Because the north tends to be wealthier and the south tends to be poorer, what we see is that, in the future, climate change is going to increase economic inequality within the U.S.,” he added.
While Republicans have historically supported candidates opposed to addressing climate change, the Brookings Institution report concluded that voters could start demanding action on the issue if they see it as impacting their daily lives.
“The swing states are what’s interesting, so Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico to some degree,” Victor said. “These are places where you can see greater attention to climate impacts resulting in a shift in attitude that alters the political landscape.”
However, it’s far from clear what impact the issue of climate change will have on people’s voting patterns. Among the issues people cared about most in November’s midterm elections, climate change was almost last, just ahead of the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, according to Gallup polling. Healthcare and the economy topped the list.
“Trump people aren’t going to say that natural disasters are due to climate change,” said Jay Lehr, science director at the climate-denialist group Heartland Institute. “If you ask people what they care about, climate change comes out on the bottom.
“What I know for sure is that man’s impact on the climate is zero,” he added.
Many scientists have increasingly linked global warming to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Michael that pummeled Florida last October and the Camp Fire that incinerated an entire town in Northern California a month later.
Still, a small minority of scientists continue to challenge the international consensus around climate science. Many of those researchers have over time come to believe that the planet is likely warming, but maintain that there is little evidence humans are the driving force.
“I think most of this is climate-science fiction,” Judith Curry, professor emerita and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, said of the Brookings Institute report.
Curry doesn’t deny the possibility that climate change could fuel natural disasters far into the future. However, she said any influence that warming would have on current events, such as flooding or wildfire, would be so small as to be completely overshadowed by the variability of naturally occurring events.
“Among the greatest concerns about climate change are its impacts on extreme events such floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and hurricanes,” she said. “However, there is little evidence that the recent warming has worsened such events.”
It appears, however, the American public could be increasingly convinced otherwise.
Seven in 10 registered voters said in December that climate change is an issue of personal importance to them — up 9 percentage point since March, according to a survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. And about two out of three people think warming is affecting weather in the United States.
“The perception that global warming will harm you personally is up,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It’s been growing slowly since 2010, but we’ve seen a real surge in this recent 8-month period since March.”
Another survey from December by the Yale program found strong bipartisan support for the so-called Green New Deal. The congressional proposal aims to create jobs with a massive subsidy to the renewable energy sector over the next decade.
The poll found that 81 percent of registered voters supported the idea — including 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans.
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