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The Rising Death Toll from Climate Change

J. Mijin Cha

A new study finds that climate change is already contributing to 400,000 deaths per year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, or 1.6 percent of global GDP. The report was commissioned by 20 governments and written by more than 50 scientists, economists and policy experts. In the report, the authors detail how the vast majority of deaths occur in developing countries and that the world’s poorest communities within lower and middle-income communities are most exposed to climate change risks. Based on the current trajectory, by 2030, climate change will cause close to 700,000 deaths per year and the cost of climate change and air pollution combined will rise to 3.2 percent of global GDP

None of this is very surprising. For instance, we’ve highlighted how a changing climate makes extreme drought much more likely, which hurts crops and agricultural yields. This then leads to a global food shortage and the poorest populations will be least able to afford basic nutrition, leading to an increase in deaths from starvation.

We’ve also highlighted how climate change will increase water scarcity, which increase instability and regional tensions, a concern that is being monitored by the U.S. Intelligence community. A series of reports released by Demos shows how climate change will impact nearly every aspect of U.S. state’s economies. The economic costs will be staggering and add to existing budget deficits.

While these numbers can be daunting, it is not too late to act to stop the worst from occurring. As we’ve written, we need a significant mental shift away from “all of the above” energy plans and ditch dead end fossil fuels. As more evidence comes out that fracking contaminates drinking water, and a major oil company warns against drilling in the Artic, we need to start winding down these activities and stop pretending that traditional fossil fuels are part of the solution to climate change.

A good first step is for Congress to renew the production tax credits for renewable energies, which work. Renewable energy production has increased in nearly every state and continued steady support will help further grow the industry. Uncertainly over the wind production tax credit is already hurting the industry and Congress must act before the credits expire at the end of this year.

If hundred of thousands of deaths and trillion dollars of economic damage don’t move Congress to act, I’m not sure what will.