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August 2019
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Can we keep ignoring the costs of major storms?

Just imagine you’re a passenger in a car and your spouse says, “don’t want to be a chicken little, but there could be something wrong with the brakes. Probably not, a bunch of mechanics told me there was a problem, but those guys might have just wanted to sell me something and a few other mechanics doubted the first mechanics, so who knows? Besides, it’s a long ways before we come to a stop sign.”

Switch this analogy to climate change. The majority of scientists believe it is occurring and is the result of what us humans are doing. Maybe they are wrong; maybe it’s a hoax; maybe the planet will correct itself or it’s a natural cycle; maybe there’s nothing we can do short of shutting down the whole economy to stave off the effects and we might as well get used to it.

But, just like with the brakes, considering the worst case scenarios - flooded coastal cities, disruptions with weather patterns and food systems, displaced people - shouldn’t we consider some basic maintenance? The old ounce of prevention idea.  People eat rigid diets, take blood pressure medicine and walk, not because they fear a heart attack that week, but because they take “one day” into account.

No one can directly tie the latest hurricane to climate change. But it’s long been thought that warmer oceans mean more and bigger storms. A Science Magazine article on stated that hurricanes are directly tied to the surface temperature of the oceans and the warming Atlantic “will likely lead to even higher numbers of major hurricanes.” 

One of the key arguments against taking any action to address climate change is the cost. The federal government has rolled back fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and decreased regulations on industry, all in the name of economic growth. The economy is doing well.

But Hurricane Michael inflicted a heavy financial toll. According to Ga. Public Policy Foundation columnist Jeffrey H. Dorfman, “As of this writing, I estimate Georgia cotton growers suffered $550 million in losses. Worse, Georgia pecan growers suffered $560 million in lost crop, damaged and destroyed trees, and lost future income while waiting for replanted orchards to mature. Georgia vegetable farmers also suffered heavy losses, perhaps over $400 million. Topping even that, Georgia timber owners may have lost $1 billion, with 250,000 acres completely lost and 750,000 acres with varying levels of damage. Add in “smaller” losses, such as almost 100 chicken houses and 2 million chickens destroyed, plus damage to peanuts, soybeans, container nurseries and greenhouses, and the total losses in Georgia’s agricultural industry will almost surely exceed $2 billion.”

Agriculture is big business in Georgia. When you count related jobs like processing plants, paper and wood manufacturing, about one in 10 Georgians’ livelihoods is tied to our crops.

Aside from the crop losses in Georgia, the insurance claims for homes and businesses were estimated at another $1.5 billion (and rising) in damages.

In Dorfman’s column he noted this was an “unprecedented” storm. Maybe it was the worst, but certainly was not unprecedented. In fact, south Georgia suffered through Hurricane Irma in September 2017 when it was thought to have destroyed 30 percent of certain crops. And in 2016 Hurricane Matthew churned through in October causing somewhere around $90 million in damage in Georgia.

Rather than question how expensive addressing climate change might be, let’s compare it to the cost of doing nothing. 

There is no fiscal sense in continuing to ask for federal assistance to rebuild and replant in hurricane areas if we are doing nothing to reduce the risk of more and larger storms. It’s not about an environmental agenda, it’s about protecting our assets like crops and condos on the coast.

It may be that climate change turns out to be just a bunch of hot air, but with these kind of costs rolling up every year, it’s time to say “just in case, let’s take a look.”