Impact of Climate Change and Economic Prosperity

By: Sushant Mehan and Sarah Daly

Hurricane Harvey was one of the most expensive storms in U.S. history and the greatest rainfall event ever measured in this country. In a lot of places, it was a 1 in 25,000-year storm. Hurricane Irma ultimately led to over 100 fatalities and extensive economic damage. It is widely believed that Hurricane Irma was caused by higher than average ocean temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean this year.  Warmer ocean temperatures can increase atmospheric temperatures, feed storms, and ultimately increase hurricane intensity.

At its current rate, global climate will lead to the rapid collapse of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets which could lead to rising sea levels of twelve feet or more.  As a consequence, major coastal cities will be at an increased risk for flooding. Additionally, projected shifts in the Atlantic Golf Stream would make Alaska’s climate more similar to that of Europe’s (IPCC, 2007, Stern, 2007). Additionally, global violent crime rates are projected to increase 0.88% per 1°C (Hsiang, 2017). Global annual mortality rates are projected to increase ~5.4 deaths per 100,000 persons per 1°C increase (Hsiang, 2017).

Global climate change will not only negatively affect natural resources, but it will jeopardize the world’s economy. The combined market value of market and nonmarket damage from analyzed sectors (agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy, human mortality, and labor) increases quadratically with global mean temperature, costing roughly 1.2% of global GDP (gross domestic product) per 1 °C increase (Hsiang, 2017). The worst impact will be felt by third world countries. By the end of the 21st century, the poorest third of countries are projected to experience damage between 2 and 20% of their country’s income (90% chance) under business as usual emissions (Hsiang, 2017).

Despite increases in non-conventional fossil fuel use and improved drilling and reserve location technology, fossil fuel reserves are limited. Current projections estimate that we will reach peak oil reserves by 2044 assuming reserves of 3.3 trillion barrels and a production growth rate of 2% (US DOE). By current estimates, oil will be depleted in 113 years, natural gas in 52 years, and oil in 50 years, and uranium in 230 years (Scientific American, 2009).

To mitigate climate change, the global economy will have to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; this will involve changes in production patterns, lifestyles, and underlying supply chains. 85% of U.S. energy is from fossil fuels, 8.5% nuclear, and 10% renewable energy (USA EIA). It is projected that by 2040, 80% of our energy will still come from fossil fuels. Despite dependence on fossil fuels, there are efforts being made to promote the use of cleaner fuels.

For example, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot initiative aims to reduce the price of solar energy by 7% from 2010-2020, so that by 2050, 27% of U.S. energy demand is met by solar technologies. There may be over 100 GW of geothermal electric capacity in the continental U.S. which would account for 10% of U.S. electricity capacity (US DOE, 2016). Geothermal plants emit twelve times less CO2 per unit of electricity than the average U.S. coal power plant (Geothermal energy Assoc., 2012). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided up to $364 million in new funding for geothermal research, development, demonstration, and deployment (US DOE, 2012). 2% of U.S. electricity was from wind in 2015, but the capacity is increasing rapidly (EIA, 2016), and could provide an annual 689,000 TWh of electricity to the U.S. The national consumption is 3,700 TWh. Wind energy could provide an $14,000 annual income to farmers of a 250-acre farm (AWEA, 2009). In addition, it avoids 96 million metric tons of CO­2 and reduces water by 37 billion gallons (AWEA, 2014).

We cannot deny the fact that the changing climate dynamics is adversely affecting the planet Earth. There have been efforts at both national and international levels to reduce the impact of climate change.  However, there needs to be an even more radical change; the solution is to shift to cleaner sources of energy. Researchers need to bring in more effective and productive system to reduce GHGs emission by promoting harmony among the different nations in the world.

About the authors:  Sushant Mehan and Sarah Daly are Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University.



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