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Experts Ponder Costs Of Climate Change

  • Jim Randle

Climate change is making it harder than usual for scientists to figure out what the future will bring and what impact weather changes will have on society and the economy. An upsurge of severe weather events has already destroyed homes, businesses and lives. Some fairly simple changes may reduce the toll.

In a laboratory test, a house built with conventional techniques is falling apart in hurricane-force winds.

The survivor has stronger shingles, thicker roof boards, and metal straps holding floors together.

Wind tunnel tests were done by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. It says stronger construction costs a little more, but holds up much better to extreme weather.

The growing number of unusually strong storms, like Typhoon Haiyan, has convinced the Chairman of the U. S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, Tom Carper, that extreme weather is the “new norm.”

"Extreme weather events have increased in frequency over the past 50 years and are expected to become even more common, more intense, and more costly," said Carper.

Hurricane Sandy hit beachfront businesses along the U.S. East Coast, including Carper's home state. Insurance companies had to pay out huge claims. To limit such losses, the insurance industry can raise premiums for businesses in vulnerable locations and offer discounts to clients who make their buildings more resilient with upgraded construction techniques.

Managing risks is the job of insurance brokers like Kevin Connelly of the Graham Company, who spoke to VOA via Skype.

“We are either going to price your insurance at a huge markup, or we are not going to write (sell it) it at all, which is just as bad obviously," said Connelly.

Drought is another suspected consequence of climate change, and dry ground means more wildfires in California. Current mathematical models of climate change do a poor job of predicting the economic impact of drought and other weather events, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Robert Pindyck, who spoke via Skype.

“I think all we can do, taking all of that into account, is come up with some very rough numbers, very rough estimates, "said Pindyck. "Consensus estimates that maybe experts provide, that give us a view of what would the catastrophic outcome look like if we don’t do anything?”

To help deal with this serious problem, Pindyck says policymakers should take actions such as imposing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. A carbon tax would encourage companies and families to use less energy and generate fewer of the gases thought to be driving changes in the climate. But other analysts say it is unlikely a new tax will get approval in the U.S. Congress any time soon.