Costs of 2017 US Weather Disasters Demolish Previous Record

A firefighter watches the Blue Cut wildfire burning near Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, California, on August 16, 2016. (Photo: RINGO CHIU / AFP / Getty Images)A firefighter watches the Blue Cut wildfire burning near Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, California, on August 16, 2016. (Photo: RINGO CHIU / AFP / Getty Images)

2017 saw the US scorched by record-breaking wildfires in California, record-breaking rainfall events like Hurricane Harvey in Houston (just one of the three most expensive hurricanes to ever hit the US, which all occurred in 2017), damaging hail events, tornadoes, and extreme droughts that wiped out crops.

These extreme weather events, most of which were fueled at least in part by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), cost the US nearly a third of a trillion dollars ($306 billion) over the past year.

That is more money than the US government spent on transportation, housing and community, international affairs, energy and the environment, and science, combined, in 2015.

The total cost of these extreme weather events was, by nearly $100 billion, a US record.

More Disasters to Come

“While we have to be careful about kneejerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to show that some of today’s extremes have climate change fingerprints on them,” University of Georgia meteorology professor J. Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society, told The Guardian.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

At a recent town hall meeting for the American Meteorological Society on this topic, Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT said of ACD’s impact on tropical cyclones, “We’ve been saying for decades now that there are two things that are a pretty sure bet. The incidence of high-intensity events are going to go up in general, and rainfall from a given hurricane is going to go up a lot.”

A vast number of studies confirm that ACD is linked to extreme weather events.

Several studies are projecting total global future costs of ACD in the tens of trillions of dollars. US banking giant Citigroup released a report in 2015 warning that inaction on ACD could cost up to $44 trillion by the year 2060. A report in the journal Nature in 2013 warned of unchecked ACD causing global damages upwards of $60 trillion — from unchecked release of Arctic methane gases alone.

We often speak of budgets and financial projections like these by casually using numbers in the “trillions,” but fail to recognize the gravity of such predictions. For perspective, a useful tool is to consider that one trillion seconds translates to 31,709.8 years.

A 2015 study by Cambridge University’s Judge business school warned that global damage from a “moderate warming scenario” would be a staggering $400 trillion.

2017 was the third-hottest year on record for Earth and the third straight year that all 50 US states had above-average temperatures for the entire year. The five warmest years for the lower 48 states have all occurred since 2006.

The ACD impacts we’ve seen thus far are a result of humans having increased the global temperature approximately 1°C. Behind closed doors, oil giants Shell and BP are planning for global temperatures to rise by as much as 5°C by 2050. The costs — financial and beyond – are, at this point, too great to predict.