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The US is penny wise and pound foolish on the climate

Posted on 13 December 2017 by John Abraham

The United States is great in many respects. But we certainly aren’t perfect; we’ve made some pretty silly choices. One of the dumb choices politicians in the United States want to make is to defund climate science so we wont be able to prepare for increased disasters in the future. We can see how shortsighted this in when compared alongside with the costs of disasters.

Just think about the respective magnitudes. Estimates put the costs of the three big 2017 hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) at approximately $200 billion. It is somewhat challenging to estimate the actual cost because not only is there rebuilding that must occur, but there are also lingering damages from loss of power, dislocation of people, and other long-lasting factors. Some reports estimate that the damage may end up being as high as $300 billion – a staggering amount.

It isn’t just hurricanes that cause damage. As I write this, terrible fires are devastating parts of California, damaging property and agricultural lands. This is on top of earlier fires elsewhere in the region, which followed closely on record droughts that had persisted in the preceding five years.

Earlier in the year the United States had other disasters that reached a billion dollars or more in damages (two floods, seven severe storms among others). Noaa provides an excellent summary.


These disasters are not limited to the United States, of course. Extreme weather fueled by human carbon pollution is occurring around the world.

But in the midst of this, President Trump and many Republican elected officials want to decrease our spending on climate science. In the United States, we have flagship organizations like Nasa and Noaa that are our eyes and ears on the climate. But throughout the year, Trump has worked to get Nasa to sharply reduce or even stop climate research. Nasa has two main missions. One mission is exploration – going to Mars, the moon, and sending exploration satellites that look outward. The other part of Nasa’s mission is to look inwards, at our own planet. To do this, they use many instruments, including satellites to measure what is happening on Earth. 

Trump and his administration want to jettison the Earth research portion of Nasa’s mission. This obviously isn’t to save money; the amount we spend on Earth-focused missions is very small. Rather, it is to halt research into the Earth’s climate. The following chart compares the cost savings from budget cuts with the extreme weather costs just this year in the USA.

Climate scientists have won the war on the facts. We know it is warming, we know how fast it is warming. We know what is causing the warming. And, we know what to do about it. Since Trump (and sadly the Republican Party as a whole) have lost that battle, they have decided to blind us so we just won’t know what is happening. 

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. Totally agree. I live outside America and I think America has been a great country in the past, overall, and I always think of the marshall plan to help europe rebuild, an act of unprecedented generosity and also foresight that it was also very much in Americas interests. I like the combination, the synergy.

    NASA earth sciences are a similar mission that is based on logical foresight of future benefits to America and also the world.

    Downscaling NASA's earth science efforts makes no sense at all, and can only damage Americas interests, and future well being. It takes decades to build up core expertise like this, and people don't realise its targeted at a huge number of environmental issues that have implications for agriculture as well as climate issues, and so on.

    NASA run the remote sensing satellite network basically, so it makes economic and logistical sense to keep these going and keep whole thing under NASAs control. The cost of this programme in truly insignificant compared to other government spending. It costs a couple of billions, where another lunar mission is estimated to cost hundreds of billions in this article. Im also not sure what going back to the moon would achieve, other than symbolism of some kind.

    However sadly right now things aren't so inspiring in America. I'm reminded of the song "American Idiot" by Green Bay, and I'm telling you pretty much the entire world is probably thinking that right now.

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  2. The chart comaring the cost of climate research vs. that of US weather disasters was not isplayed here but on only. The chart is somewhat simplistic & tiny. John would better show the actual number which is impossible to eyeball from the tiny chart. Is it 2% or 1% or 0.1%?

    To be fair, you have to also estimate how much of the weather cost is due to AGW (which is very hard to estimate) but assuming most of the cost would indeed be due to AGW (e.g. last 20cm of sea surge due to SLR may be the tipping point of a flooding of the infrastructure, otherwise holdable) the result of the comparison is obvious.

    Still, because IMO most GOP policy makers are not that stupid as not to understand basic facts, but rather blatant liars on FF donations, the real problem for them is not the science itself but the large cost (to their own pockets) of changing the policy in order to do something about AWG. Their denial of science and defunding of science is a lie to the public and to themselves. So, to address the very root of that lie, the comparison of the cost of mitigation vs. that of the disasters is needed. That comparison have been done eleswhere, andd even though the difference is not as stark and ultimate mitigation method still do not exist, it's still cheaper to start mitigation ASAP rather than burden it on future generations.

    IMO, any cuts to CS are not a big deal in the overall picture. The cuts to the mitigation efforts are far more serious. In the end, we will be far better off if we don't understand the climate anymore but do drop emissions to rezo per Paris Agreement. In this context, t-man's clownish efforts to remove US from it, is far greater crime against poor and against future generation than the CS cuts described.

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  3. Trump will use regulation to win his second term: mark my words!

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  4. Bozza @3, what do you mean by that? 

    Won't divert into politics too much, but Trump is under attack in many areas, and it seems unlikely he will survive all of them.

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  5. Bozza @3, are you thinking that at the next election Trump may promote a mild form of carbon tax or something, to win over the democrats and public? He does play your long game and is is as cunning as a fox, but I think the public are probably sick of his general "demaenour" and would see through the trickery. People have limits of what they will tolerate.

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  6. This seems to be a case of: “The message makes me uncomfortable, so I’ll shoot the messenger!”

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