Health cost of 6 U.S. climate disasters: $14 billion

WASHINGTON Mon Nov 7, 2011 5:20pm EST

A view of the dry bed of the E.V. Spence Reservoir in Robert Lee, Texas October 28, 2011. REUTERS/Calle Richmond

A view of the dry bed of the E.V. Spence Reservoir in Robert Lee, Texas October 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Calle Richmond

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deaths and health problems from floods, drought and other U.S. disasters related to climate change cost an estimated $14 billion over the last decade, researchers said on Monday.

"When extreme weather hits, we hear about the property damage and insurance costs," said Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council and a co-author of the study. "The healthcare costs never end up on the tab."

The study in the journal Health Affairs looked at the cost of human suffering and loss of life due to six disasters from 2000-2009.

"This in no way is going to capture all of the climate-related events that happened in the U.S. over that time period," Knowlton said. "At $14 billion, these numbers are big already."

To put this in context, 14 weather disasters in the United States so far this year have cost at least $14 billion, according to Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground website.

Masters said by email that health costs and deaths are considered in some of the data used to reach this figure.

Scientists and economists from the non-profit NRDC, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco estimated the health costs for the following events from 2000 to 2009:

* U.S. ozone air pollution, 2000-2002, $6.5 billion;

* West Nile virus outbreak in Louisiana, 2002, $207 million;

* Southern California wildfires, 2003, $578 million;

* Florida hurricane season, 2004, $1.4 billion;

* California heat wave, 2006, $5.3 billion;

* Red River flooding in North Dakota, 2009, $20 million.

GETTING WORSE AS PLANET WARMS

The study's authors stressed they chose events in the middle of the severity spectrum and left out some notably costly disasters, such as the 2005 hurricane season that included the devastating Hurricane Katrina. In the case of Katrina, the healthcare costs were hard to pinpoint.

The six case studies are examples of events related to climate change that are projected to worsen as the planet warms, the authors said.

These six events resulted in an estimated 1,689 premature deaths, 8,992 hospitalizations, 21,113 emergency room visits and 734,398 outpatient visits, according to the study.

In dollars, the largest cost by far was for premature deaths at $13.3 billion. This number was based on the Environmental Protection Agency's value of a statistical life, $7.6 million, co-author Wendy Max said.

This was not meant to put a value on any one life but to calculate how much people in aggregate would be willing to spend to lessen the risk of death from certain causes, including the events cited in the study.

For Mark Conley of Raymond, Maine, whose 11-year-old son Jake suffers from asthma that gets worse with the rise in ozone air pollution, the calculation is more than dollars and cents.

"On those days that are really bad out there, he doesn't have the lung capacity," Conley said of the son who plays soccer, basketball and baseball. "A lot of times we have to pull him out of the game."

Conley, who runs a heating and air conditioning business, said his monthly health insurance premiums are $1,100 with a $5,000 deductible.

"When does it get to the point where I can't afford it?" Conley said by phone. "What happens when Jake gets worse?"

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (5)
Virgin12 wrote:
In planning mode, we have 5 year, 10 year, 25 year, 50 year and 100 year flood plains. If you live in one of those flood plains, you will get flooded. That is NOT global warming, that is REALITY.

Nov 08, 2011 12:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ECOPOLITICS wrote:
Environmental groups take tax deductible donations from you, foundations and industry to operate global environmental campaigns about problems of pollution, species extinction and climate change. These green groups also lobby and litigate intensely for costly, multi-level government regulatory controls of the environment.

As taxpayer-subsidized nonprofits, green group assets for eco-propaganda, law suits and lobbying have grown to some $1.5 billion annually. Green groups spent more than $20 million on 2010 political campaigns and lobbying. This while I.R.S. Code Section 501(c)(3) specifically limits nonprofit organization spending on political operations. Executives at these larger green groups commonly have annual salaries of $250,000 and up – members of the demonized “Occupy Wall Street 1%ers.”

Green groups have seen a 14% dip in donations during our economic recession. But, they still have a prominent political and cultural donor constituency. Here are recently-reported assets of the big green environmental groups (The Daily Caller, Oct. 5, 2011):

The Sierra Club had $170 million for 2009;
Nature Conservancy had $5.65 billion for 2009;
World Wildlife Fund had $377.5 million as of June 2010;
National Audubon Society had $305.9 million for 2010;
Environmental Defense Fund had $132 million for fiscal 2010;
Natural Resources Defense Council had $181 million for fiscal 2010.
Eco-activism and green groups promote endless government regulations that embed tax-like inflationary costs in all of our products, services, fuels and activities. Today, most environmental problems are solved, or are under active management. Sadly, the global climate hysteria and partisan green agenda are about the gratuitous growth of governments for political power – not about environmental problem solving.

Nov 08, 2011 12:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
smarcus wrote:
Environmental problems are solved…with the exception of unusually long droughts in the southwest, record snowfalls in the midwest, uncharacteristically strong hurricanes in the northeast. Wildfires that seem to intensify every year. Similar events take place globally as well. Yeah, we have really conquered nature. The only phenomenon that can not be explained is how in the entire world, the US is the only nation that has not accepted climate change. This debate doesn’t take place in China or other developed nations, they accept that science is the way forward.

Nov 08, 2011 2:06pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.