Climate Damages: Uncertain but Ominous, or $51 per Ton?

by Frank Ackerman | February 14, 2019

Originally published on Triple Crisis.

Second in a series of posts on climate policy. Find Part 1 here.

According to scientists, climate damages are deeply uncertain but could be ominously large (see the previous post). Alternatively, according to the best-known economic calculation, lifetime damages caused by emissions in 2020 will be worth $51 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, in 2018 prices.

These two views can’t both be right. This post explains where the $51 estimate comes from, why it’s not reliable, and the meaning for climate policy of the deep uncertainty about the value of damages.

A tale of three models

The “social cost of carbon” (SCC) is the value of present and future climate damages caused by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions. The Obama administration assembled an Interagency Working Group to estimate the SCC. In its final (August 2016) revision of the numbers, the most widely used variant of the SCC was $42 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted in 2020, expressed in 2007 dollars – equivalent to $51 in 2018 dollars. Numbers like this were used in Obama-era cost-benefit analyses of new regulations, placing a dollar value on the reduction in carbon emissions from, say, vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

To create these numbers, the Working Group averaged the results from three well-known models. These do not provide more detailed or in-depth analysis than other models. On the contrary, two ...

On Buying Insurance, and Ignoring Cost-Benefit Analysis

by Frank Ackerman | February 11, 2019
Originally published on Triple Crisis. The damages expected from climate change seem to get worse with each new study. Reports from the IPCC and the U.S. Global Change Research Project, and a multi-author review article in Science, all published in late 2018, are among the recent bearers of bad news. Even more continues to arrive in a swarm of research articles, too numerous to list here. And most of these reports are talking about not-so-long-term damages. Dramatic climate disruption and ...

Designing Law to Prevent Runaway Climate Change

by Melissa Powers | November 15, 2018
This post is part of a series of essays from the Environmental Law Collaborative on the theme "Environmental Law. Disrupted." It was originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. "Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." If that's so, our climate and energy laws have been perfectly designed to fall short. They will not avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change or enable a swift transition to a zero-carbon energy system because they have not been ...

Climate Change, Public Health, and the Ocean and Coasts

by Robin Kundis Craig | November 05, 2018
Climate change is having significant effects on the ocean. Sea levels are rising. The ocean is becoming warmer, and because the ocean absorbs chemically reactive carbon dioxide, its pH is dropping. Hurricanes, typhoons, and other coastal storms are becoming stronger on average. Marine species are on the move, generally shifting toward the poles and, to a lesser extent, deeper. Coral reefs are dying.  Clearly, the climate impacts on the ocean are cause for concern. Between 2013 and 2016, the ocean ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: State Pollution-Permitting Must Be Reformed to Adapt to Climate Change

by David Flores | November 01, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated. Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat. As the District of Columbia and the states ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Relocation and Migration

by Maxine A Burkett | September 13, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. The 2017 hurricane season demonstrated the “second disaster” phenomenon. Climate-fueled storms are the first, named disaster. The second disaster is the tragedy that results from the lack of preparedness of decision-makers — at all levels — who have failed to plan in a manner consistent with the risks presented.  Perhaps few phenomena underscore that more than the post-disaster ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Adaptation Planning and Resilience: All Hands on Deck

by Alice Kaswan | September 06, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. By the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the American people were reeling from the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The press documented the familiar cycle of compassion, frustration, and anger. As people suffered for days, weeks, and months in communities that were flooded, without power, and in need of food and other basic supplies, the ...

Making Sense of NOAA's Wildfire Announcement

by Dave Owen | August 10, 2018
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross just released a statement directing NOAA to "facilitate" water use to respond to California's wildfires (the statement follows several tweets in which President Trump implied that the cause of California's wildfires was the state's ill-advised decision to let some of its rivers flow downhill to the ocean). Because I've already seen a few befuddled headlines about what this all means, I thought a short post explaining a few ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: 'Stopping Rules' Would Say When It's Time to Shift from Debating to Acting

by David Flores | June 11, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Science is hard, environmental policy is complicated and regulatory science can seem endlessly confounding. It does not have to be. Earlier this year, the Chesapeake Bay partners stepped into a time-worn trap, heeding calls from overly cautious states to wait for more refined scientific modeling of climate change impacts before taking action to eliminate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Having punted action until 2021 at the earliest, ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: Bay Jurisdictions' No-action Climate Policy Puts Restoration in Peril

by Rena Steinzor | December 14, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth. Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the ...

Trump's Proposed Budget Cuts to Climate Programs Hurt American Agriculture

by David Flores | June 07, 2017
President Trump's historic retreat from the Paris climate accord last week is just the latest installment in the story of how his administration's anti-science and anti-protections policies with respect to climate change could do grave harm to many aspects of American life. His proposed budget is likely to be the next chapter.  While Trump sees the issue through coal-colored lenses, it's clear to anyone paying attention to actual science that that the impacts of climate change have and will continue ...

Reaching Higher Ground in the Face of Climate Change

by David Flores | May 03, 2017
We've seen a flurry of news coverage in the last several weeks on climate migration, displacement, and relocation. In a new report published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores these issues and examines tools and resources that communities can use when faced with the challenges of relocating out of harm's way.  The New York Times Magazine recently profiled one homeowner in Norfolk, Virginia, who purchased a home that had never been flooded, but in the ten years since has ...

Baltimore Sun op-ed: Bay Cleanup Must Factor in Climate Change

by David Flores | February 28, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. Last summer, when floodwaters nearly wiped out Old Ellicott City, many people looked at the damage as bad luck caused by a 500-year storm. The truth is that such storms are no longer rare events. The Northeast United States has experienced a staggering 70 percent increase in intense rainstorms thanks to climate change. Unfortunately, efforts in the Chesapeake Bay region to adapt policies to address these threats are lagging far behind, and ...

The Owls in the Vineyard

by Daniel Farber | January 19, 2017
It's smart to take precautions against climate change. More can be done, even in the Trump era. At night, you can hear the hooting of owls in the vineyard. The owners have deployed owls and falcons to control the pests that threaten the Kendall Jackson vineyards due to milder winters. But birds of prey aren't the only things flying above the vineyard. There are also drones, which are used to observe small differences in the color of the vines that ...

GOP Mayor: Let's Talk About the Octopus in the Room

by Daniel Farber | December 19, 2016
Jim Cason, the GOP mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, wants us to talk about climate change: "'We're looking to a future where we're going to be underwater, a great portion of South Florida,' Cason said. 'For all of us down here, this is really not a partisan issue. We see it. We see the octopus in the room, not the elephant.'" (E&E News) An octopus in the room? It's a striking image. If you're wondering what prompted that unusual metaphor, Rob Verchick ...

Pair of EPA Actions Show Long Road Ahead for Urban Water Quality, Climate Resilience

by Evan Isaacson | December 08, 2016
Over the last couple of months, a pair of actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demonstrate the glacial pace of federal stormwater management policy under the Clean Water Act. In October, EPA rejected a series of petitions by a group of environmental organizations to expand regulatory protections for certain urban waterways. Then last month, EPA issued a new national rule clarifying existing urban water quality regulations, but only because it was forced to respond to a federal ...

Ignoring Climate Change Can Be Deadly: State Edition

by Victor Flatt | November 07, 2016
During the U.S. presidential race, much ink has been spilled on how important the election is. But one of the most important issues of all – climate change – has made little appearance in the election discourse, even though it is one of many issues on which the candidates have sharp divisions. But those divisions are not just important at the federal level. Climate change and environmental risk have also been politically divisive at the state level. Many state governments have ...

Climate Change Threatens Communities with Dangerous Spills and Contamination from Nearby Industrial Facilities

by David Flores | October 18, 2016
To date, climate adaptation and resilience planning efforts on the local, state, and federal levels have largely focused on protecting residential, commercial, and municipal infrastructure from sea level rise and deadly storm surge through such structural practices as shoreline armoring. However, a growing number of advocates are raising concerns about the threat that extreme weather poses to the low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately situated near industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding.  Industrial facilities – oil and gas, ...
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