Climate Change: How bad can it be?

It is easy to become lulled into intellectual somnolence by the seemingly gradual changes we are incurring in our weather. After all, just how bad can a couple of degrees be?

Oh, we wake up every once in a while when our catastrophe leads media reports on some hurricane, flood or tornado, especially if the event is half-a-world away. We all thought that the outbreak of tornadoes that struck the Southeast this spring was bad enough It truly was in Tuscaloosa. Then, we had to live vicariously through Joplin again. I remember May, 1971 tornado that hit Joplin. But we need to pay more attention to the facts of what is happening rather than jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

Heidi Cullen give a good summary of what we know about climate change and tornadoes in this post at Huffington Post and then repeated, with comments, by Joe Romm at Climate Progress I give you that link as Joe’s bracketed comments point to additional information

Still, we need more understanding than that and this Mother Jones summary of a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists does just that, bringing attention to the relationship between climate (temperature), ozone and health. There is a lot to piece together and the collage is not a pretty picture or a wonderful future.

The report, published yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that CO2-induced temperature increases will worsen ground-level ozone concentrations (the kind coming from power plants and exhaust pipes, not the kind that shields the Earth from UV rays). Higher concentrations of ground-level ozone threaten the health of millions of Americans, an impact that could cost the US $5.4 billion in 2020.

As someone who suffered with asthma as a child, and that was long before we had inhalers or corticosteroids to deal with the symptoms. Asthma is not what I would wish on any child but that is what we are doing.

There are two recent takes on the effects of this. One is a post at Climate Progress that recognizes asthma as an environmental justice issue facing, primarily, people of color. The other is a rather straight forward determination that Californians will be the most affected and shows up on the KQED (SF) blog: Climate Watch. They both comment on the same report, just frame it differently.

This is going to be additive to the problems that we already have in California. A 2006 report from CSU Fullerton found that air pollution was costing California’s some $3 billion annually. Included in this finding were:

23,300 asthma attacks
188,000 days of school absences
3,230 cases of acute bronchitis in children

The authors updated and expanded that study in 2008. This time they included the corridor leading away from the port at Long Beach and all that diesel traffic. Now the cost to California was $28 Billion annually and the costs to our children, in terms of health and education were more striking;

Asthma attacks: 141,370
Days of school absence: 1,259,840
Cases of acute bronchitis in children: 16,110
Days of respiratory symptoms in children: 2,078,300

This is the base problem to which we are adding an additional load from increase pollution.
While the current economic conditions will alter the monetary value, the number of events do not change. Even with school funding being cut and cut, those lost school days deprive our education system of what it really needs to do its job as funding formulas use average daily attendance.

If Greens want to work for better education, if we want to lower the cost of health care, if we want a better future for our children, then we had better be spending a lot of time on the battle for a rational climate policy. It is as important as anything else we do, since it deal with everything at once: energy, the economy, health care, education. The economic cost for California would be as high as $1.8 billion / yr by 2020 if we do nothing. The cost to our children can not be so easily calculated.


  1. How bad can it be? A couple of months ago Stephen Hawkins, world renowned Nobel Physics Laurette, announced we as humans have about a hundred years to figure out how to get off the surface of this planet, as otherwise we will not survive.

    Where I come from, when you buy the ticket, you take the ride.

  2. When he talks about getting of this planet, who is he talking about? Those with the money and influence, the chosen few parasites that caused most of the damage? Or will it be a mass exodus of all the people on earth? No doubt there will be a committee of the chosen to decide who goes and who stays and who is first and who is last. After all we wouldn’t want to take all those lower plebs and lesser beings, if we want to start a brave new world, would we???

    • John’s observation is precisely why, regardless the high degree of esteem I hold forth for Dr. Hawkins, I don’t find it credible. We don’t know enough to get off the planet. There may be attempts by the elite to do so – indeed, within the “conspiracy” bowels of the net where I occasionally delve there is suggestion that such is going on – but the resources for such a massive undertaking just aren’t there. And when we look at what’s the best writing available to us on this very matter, science “fiction”, we are reminded these undertakings generally require what amounts to a multi-generational penal effort.

      As a First American, I wouldn’t even think of it. This is my Mother, upon which we are but fleas agitating the hide of a far greater organism. We must learn to adapt. Or die.

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