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Study: Weather Extremes, Fossil Fuel Pollution Costing US $240B


FILE - A military vehicle passes flood-damaged belongings piled on a homeowners' front lawn in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey at the Canyon Gate community in Katy, Texas, Sept. 7, 2017.

Weather extremes and air pollution from burning fossil fuels cost the United States $240 billion a year in the past decade, according to a report Wednesday that urged President Donald Trump to do more to combat climate change.

This year is likely to be the most expensive on record, with an estimated $300 billion in losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and a spate of wildfires in Western states in the past two months, it said.

"The evidence is undeniable: The more fossil fuels we burn, the faster the climate continues to change," leading scientists wrote in the study published by the nonprofit Universal Ecological Fund.

Costs to human health from air pollution caused by fossil fuels averaged $188 billion a year over the past decade, it estimated, while losses from weather extremes such as droughts, heat waves and floods averaged $52 billion.

Trump could curb the $240 billion cost, equivalent to 1.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, by revising his plans to promote the U.S. coal industry and to pull out of the 195-nation Paris climate agreement, it said.

"We are not saying that all [weather extremes] are due to human activity, but these are the sorts of events that seem to be increasing in intensity," co-author Robert Watson, a former head of the U.N. panel of climate scientists, told Reuters.

Higher ocean temperatures, for instance, mean more moisture in the air that can fuel hurricanes.

FILE - Farmer John Weinand surveys a drought-plagued wheat field near Beulah, North Dakota, that should be twice as tall as it is, July 13, 2017.
FILE - Farmer John Weinand surveys a drought-plagued wheat field near Beulah, North Dakota, that should be twice as tall as it is, July 13, 2017.

Events on the rise

And, in a sign of increasing risks, there were 92 extreme weather events that caused damage exceeding $1 billion in the United States in the decade ending in 2016, compared with 38 in the 1990s and 21 in the 1980s.

The combined cost of extreme weather and pollution from fossil fuels would climb to $360 billion a year in the next decade, the study said. Trump's pro-coal policies could mean more air pollution, reversing recent improvements in air quality.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused scientists who linked record extreme rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey to man-made climate change as trying to "politicize an ongoing tragedy."

Wednesday's study has been in the works for months, said co-author James McCarthy, professor of oceanography at Harvard University. He said there was widening evidence that a shift from fossil fuels made economic sense.

"Why is Iowa, why is Oklahoma, why is Kansas, why is Texas investing in wind energy? Not because they are interested in sea level rise or ocean temperatures but because it's economically sensible," he told Reuters.

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