16 january 2018

Gazette editorial: Speaking of unsustainable, get a load of 2017's climate change costs

Charleston Gazette-Mail, January 16, 2018

Sixteen weather calamities in 2017 cost America a record-breaking $306 billion, killed 251 people, wrecked local economies and threw insurers into the red, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The worst came from three hurricanes — Harvey, Maria and Irma — that inflicted $265 billion of the loss and left Puerto Rico in ruins. Next were western wildfires, causing $18 billion loss.

NOAA pointed out that, since 1980, America has suffered 215 weather disasters costing more than $1 billion each — racking up $1.2 trillion in total damage.

Last year was the worst yet — but the toll may grow more severe in the future, because global warming keeps intensifying storms, floods, droughts and other weather evils.

Hotter air holds more moisture, triggering ever-stronger climate effects. Burning of fossil fuels puts “greenhouse gas” pollution into the sky, where it forms a barrier trapping heat on Earth’s surface.

Conservative politicians and polluting industry executives insist that global warming isn’t happening. President Trump calls it a hoax concocted by the Chinese. He pulled America out of a worldwide plan to resist warming. Deniers say America can’t afford the cost of reducing greenhouse pollution.

But the horrible $306 billion loss in 2017 — and $1.2 trillion since 1980 — should convince everyone. And that’s just the cost in money. There are threats more difficult to measure in displacing people and potential fights over resources that human-caused climate change could spark.

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