President Barack Obama said last month that some of the effects of climate change could cost the United States $200 billion by the end of the century, but the U.S. economy shrank by a comparable amount in just the past year, a Washington Free Beacon analysis found.
Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy that, "It’s estimated that a further increase in sea level of just one foot by the end of this century could cost our nation $200 billion." While that amount pales in comparison to figures such as federal spending of $3.5 trillion in 2014, it is also similar to the contractions in the U.S. economy during the last year.
Recent Stories in Issues
According to the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by $30.6 billion in the first quarter of 2015 after adjusting for inflation (see Table 3). GDP tends to decline in the first quarter due to winter weather and other variable factors such as declining oil production. It then typically increases in the remaining three quarters of the year.
In the first quarter of 2014, inflation-adjusted GDP shrank by $118.1 billion. Thus, GDP decreased by nearly $150 billion in the last two first quarters due to economic fluctuations, about the same amount as Obama’s estimate for the cost of rising sea levels for the entire century.
The White House attributed both recent GDP slowdowns to "severe" winter weather and other volatile factors such as declining exports. In fact, the administration cited the effects of global climate change last month and said that, "first-quarter underperformance (defined as the difference between GDP growth in the first-quarter and the rest of the year) has tended to increase over the past ten years, in parallel with intensifying winter weather."
However, the evidence that climate change results in harsher winters is mixed at best. Two studies published in March found that warmer temperatures should yield fewer severe winters, not more.
"The results indicate that Arctic amplification of global warming leads to even less frequent cold outbreaks in Northern Hemisphere winter than a shift toward a warmer mean climate implies by itself," said one of the studies in the Journal of Climate.
As part of the administration’s efforts to combat climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed regulations to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Chamber of Commerce estimated that those rules would cost the U.S. economy more than $50 billion a year until 2030 or about $800 billion, four times more than Obama’s sea level estimate.