Climate change is the reality of today. Oceans are becoming more and more acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide. Cities along the Eastern seaboard flood more regularly than ever before. And the largest forest fires in history have occurred in the last decade alone.
Many natural disasters are said to stem from climate change-related issues, and they impact not only those unfortunate enough to fall along their pathway of destruction but also the nation as a whole. For instance, a hurricane tearing through neighborhoods or a forest fire ravaging homes means families displaced from their homes, scrambling to relocate or seek refuge elsewhere.
But it also means the federal government scrounging up the funds and stepping in to repair, reconstruct, and revive the damaged areas. In other words, the federal government has to reach into its fiscal wallet to cover the cost of such events. And the expenditures associated with these revival efforts aren't lightweight.
How the national debt hinders climate change mitigation efforts
According to Analytical Perspectives published in 2017, the federal government has shelled out more than $300 billion in the past decade due to direct costs from disaster relief, insurance, and the management of wildfires, most of which have resulted from natural disasters.
Although the exact costs resulting from human-made climate change are difficult to estimate, research indicates that costs from disasters have only increased over time and can only expect to continue increasing into the future.
These facts suggest that climate change should be considered more than merely an environmental issue: it should be a fiscal one, too. Economists like Dean Baker acknowledge this by stating that to solve the country's budget crisis, policymakers should prioritize solving climate change issues first.
Perhaps the question then is this: if climate change-related disasters eat up such a large amount of the nation's fiscal spending, why aren'twe pouring more money and effort into prevention and mitigation efforts, especially considering that more and more policymakers agree that taxes, spending, and risk management can be used to promote mitigation?
One reason is this: the interest payments the nation is making on its national debt is heavily crowding out any spare funds that it could use toward natural disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.
The debt, having reached a record-breaking amount of $21.3 trillion, doesn't come without costs to the nation and its citizens. The debt, like any other loan, requires the payment of interest. For instance, in 2017, the interest to be paid on the national debt was estimated to total $276.2 billion.
When the debt grows at an exponential rate, the interest rates grow too, swallowing up any possible funds for climate change prevention tactics that could, in the end, save the nation the billions of dollars it spends reactively on revival efforts.
Make a difference with Net Impact
Climate change is not a phenomenon that will disappear over time - and its effects can be seen all over the world. If you're a student or young professional, you have the ability to make a difference on society and the environment for the future.
Up to Us, a leadership development program for college students, focuses on how Millennials can take action to achieve a fiscally sound future for our nation.
This program helps raise awareness on campuses about the potential negative effects short-sighted fiscal policies can have on their future. To learn more, visit www.itsuptous.org.