By: Eric Galatas, Public News Service
Scientists warn that extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey, are likely to become more frequent and powerful as the planet warms. (Getty Images)
DENVER – Economists warn that the costs of climate change in the U.S. – including from the health impacts of air pollution and natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires – could top $350 billion annually in the next 10 years.
But Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says some of those costs could be offset if more states commit to renewable energy.
According to a new report that he authored, the U.S. could save over $160 billion in climate damage by 2050, and even more in health savings.
«We estimate roughly $100 billion of health savings,” he states. “That primarily comes through reduced premature deaths from emissions that are otherwise offset by the use of these renewable sources.»
Wiser’s projections are based on existing renewable portfolio standards. These laws are on the books in 29 states, including Colorado, requiring utilities to generate specific amounts of clean energy.
Wiser notes if states committed to larger portfolios, savings could add up to more than $1 trillion.
A separate study by the Universal Ecological Fund found that billion dollar weather disasters in the U.S. are on the rise, with no sign of slowing.
Wiser cautions it’s impossible to directly tie any individual natural disaster to climate change.
«Certainly well before humans, there were extreme weather events,” he allows. “What we do know is that extreme forms of weather are likely to become more frequent and more worrisome at higher temperatures.»
Colorado was the first state in the nation to create a renewable portfolio standard by ballot initiative in 2004.
While it’s unclear if transitioning off fossil fuels will produce a net increase in jobs, Wiser says there will be a growing workforce in renewables.
«We found a need for almost 5 million additional renewable energy job-years,” he states. “That’s basically a boost of 20 percent in renewable energy employment, just to meet these existing RPS standards.»
Researchers found the price tag for switching to clean energy, which could range from $23 billion to just over $190 billion, still makes renewable standards a cost-effective option.
Wiser adds enacting a carbon tax could also help improve air quality and mitigate climate damage even faster, and at a lower cost.