Saturday, June 04, 2011

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 Southease 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 Progres. 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 read the same report, just framed 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.


Fern said...

Yet another reason to re-establish the South Central Farm at Alameda and 41st, right up from the port of Long Beach, in the most polluted zip code in the county! The residents deserve a community oriented green open space for many reasons, air quality being right up there!

Wes said...

It is a good reason to do a lot of things and there are a lot of reasons to revive the S. Central Farm.