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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Storm underscores high cost of climate change

The Columbian
Published: March 22, 2024, 6:03am

January’s ice storm in Clark County demonstrates the cost of climate change. In addition to altering wildlife habitat and agricultural production, extreme weather events already are proving costly to consumers.

As reported by The Columbian, January’s storm caused Clark Public Utilities to spend $30 million more than had been budgeted during the month. A week of freezing temperatures led to increased demand for electricity as consumers tried to keep their homes and businesses warm; with other utilities throughout the region also trying to meet demand, prices spiked.

Revenue for Clark Public Utilities also increased during the period, with consumption leading to higher bills for users. But the net cost of the storm for the utility was approximately $26 million. That caused financial stress, and commissioners — an elected three-person board — agreed to a rate increase averaging 14.5 percent.

January, of course, was not the first time cold weather has settled upon Clark County for an extended period. But it is one example of the impact climate change has at the household level.

A vast majority of climate scientists have concluded that an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — often from the burning of fossil fuels — is helping to warm the planet. That does not only mean higher temperatures during the summer; it also means an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Whether or not we contribute January’s storm to climate change, it fits in with a costly global pattern.

The World Economic Forum reported last year: “The global cost of climate change damage is estimated to be between $1.7 trillion and $3.1 trillion per year by 2050. This includes the cost of damage to infrastructure, property, agriculture, and human health. This cost is expected to increase over time as the impacts of climate change become more severe.”

An annual figure of $1.7 trillion would work out to more than $4.6 billion per day. It would be naïve to suggest that none of those costs fall upon the people of Clark County.

For more than three decades, prescient leaders and scientists have been warning about the broad threat of climate change. Legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 launched the National Climate Assessment, designed to document the impact of a changing climate on the United States. “We know that the future of the Earth must not be compromised,” Bush told a United Nations panel. “We bear a sacred trust in our tenancy here and a covenant with those most precious to us — our children and theirs.”

Since then, the issue has been warped by political differences. The Trump administration, for example, would release the National Climate Assessment on the Friday following Thanksgiving — a time it was certain to draw little attention — and then would downplay its conclusions.

But ignoring or downplaying the consequences does not alter the reality. While critics question the costs of reducing carbon emissions, evidence suggests that failing to act will lead to far greater costs in the future.

As Nils Rokke wrote for Forbes.com: “In the grand scheme of things, the financial commitment is not only manageable but essential for securing a sustainable future. What, then, does ‘affordable’ truly mean in the face of potential climate catastrophe?”

In the wake of a relatively mild storm two months ago, Clark County residents might be asking the same thing.