Contrary to Republican rhetoric, climate change damages US economy

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During last Wednesday’s GOP debate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) unveiled a new conservative argument against active climate policy, arguing that it would be economically disastrous without producing results.

If Republicans adopt this new stance, they must also address the impacts of a changing climate. It causes more extreme drought, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires, and it helps spread tropical diseases. Today, ambient air pollution causes 6.7 percent of all deaths worldwide — more than 3.7 million a year. Increased pollution will cause these figures to rise.   

Rubio claims we cannot act because of cost, but these impacts have a measurable economic toll. Sheila Olmstead, an environmental economist and public affairs associate professor at the LBJ School, said she believes these damages harm the U.S. GDP.

“Economists take projections from climate models about what physical impacts [of climate change] will be and combine those with models of the economy,” Olmstead said. “The value of that damage [equals] the social cost of carbon emissions.”   

Conservative estimates predict every metric ton of carbon emissions creates at least $44 in net damages, which comes to $90 billion a year in the United States alone. Between lower production and money spent treating the symptoms of that damage, over 2 percent of the U.S. annual GDP will be gone by 2030.

A tax on carbon forcing producers to pay for their damages at their social cost would help pay for these harms. A system of climate rebates and implementing taxes over time would keep prices from rising for lower- and middle-class Americans. All the while, more investment in sustainable power would mean more jobs in an industry that is already creating jobs faster than oil and gas.

Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, Plan II student and former director of the Campus Environmental Center, said the much higher age of the average Republican allows candidates to pander to short-term fears and ignore long-term damage.   

“I think that most college students recognize that climate change is an issue,” Kachelmeyer said. “But we’re not the base that conservative politicians have to appeal to.”  

College students will face the bulk of the harms of climate change. Low student voter turnout means they are allowing Rubio’s misguided inaction on carbon pollution to be politically viable. Unless students act quickly and exert their political influence, their future will go up in smoke.

Chase is a Plan II junior from Royse City. Follow Chase on Twitter @alexwchase