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EDITORIAL: Costs of climate change piling up already

Flooding damaged homes in Brown's Arm, NL, last year. Climate change may make overland flooding a larger risk for for Canadian homeowners.
A flooded home in Brown’s Arm, N.L. Climate change may make overland flooding a larger risk for municipal infrastructure and homeowners. — SaltWire Network file photo

Talk climate change and everyone looks towards calamity in the future.

It’s the kind of thing that opponents find easy to dismiss.

But how about the cost that climate change is already having? Real dollars-and-cents changes that will hit taxpayers and those using services around the world?

Perhaps that might get the attention of those who prefer to keep their heads firmly in the sand.

The San Francisco County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan by the San Francisco International Airport to encircle the low-lying airport — which is the seventh busiest in the U.S. and serves 55 million people a year — with a 10-mile long seawall that will cost US$547 million. With interest on the bonds that will finance the project, the final bill for airlines — and eventually their passengers — will be US$1.7 billion by the time the bonds are paid off in 30 years.

Municipalities across the Atlantic provinces are already doing the uncomfortable math of having to both pay for repairs to existing systems, and also pay to replace them with larger systems capable of dealing with substantially more rainfall in shorter periods.

(It’s funny, though, to think that the same people who made money from lending industries money to build will now make similar amounts from the ballooning costs of mitigation.)

San Francisco Bay has risen by eight inches in the last 120 years, and is expected to rise by another foot by 2050.

No, you can do a little rough math and you might say, “So what? US$1.7 billion spread across 55 million passengers a year is only something like $31 apiece.” But then, add in the US$5 billion sea wall that San Francisco is building to protect its downtown, the US$46 million the Oakland airport needs for increasing the height of flood berms (both airports already have systems of dikes, but neither of the dike systems is high enough) and the list goes on.

Important to also keep in mind?

While infrastructure dollars go into climate mitigation, there are still the ordinary infrastructure costs to be borne: repairing or replacing roads, sewage systems, storm water systems and more. Those costs don’t just go away,

Municipalities across the Atlantic provinces are already doing the uncomfortable math of having to both pay for repairs to existing systems, and also pay to replace them with larger systems capable of dealing with substantially more rainfall in shorter periods. Plenty of towns and cities have already suffered through what happens when existing infrastructure doesn’t measure up to new demands.

The bottom line to the whole thing? Debate about whether we’re in a climate crisis all you like. But while some people choose to close their eyes to the facts and the science, they won’t be able to close their eyes to the changes in their tax bills. Because change is coming and, in fact, is already here. Try telling the tax man climate change isn’t coming and you won’t pay.

It isn’t off in the hazy future. It’s the right now.

And it’s perilously expensive for all of us.

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