Wonder Where Your Hard-Earned Tax Dollars are Going?
A growing chunk of American tax dollars is footing the bill for increasing floods, fires, droughts and other climate related changes taking place in the country, according to new figures compiled by Ceres, a nonprofit organization mobilizing business leadership on climate change.
“Climate change is fundamentally changing the United States, and American taxpayers are paying a huge price for it,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber. “The cost of withered crops, submerged streets, hurricane damage and wildfires eventually comes out of our own wallets. Crop insurance losses from last year’s drought alone cost every person in America $51.”
Ceres compiled data showing rising costs to three federal programs, as well as growing financial exposure for state taxpayers in hurricane-prone states. Among the findings:
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is staggering under massive losses after Hurricane Sandy, which triggered more than 115,000 new claims in just the first two weeks after the storm. Although NFIP collects about $3.5 billion a year in premiums, the amount of claims the agency has paid out has exceeded the amount of premiums collected in four of the past eight years. Last year's losses in Sandy's wake are expected to approach $8 billion.
“That’s $25 for every American, and that figure doesn’t even include the $50 billion of disaster relief that Congress approved in January for Sandy-impacted states,” Lubber said.
Taxpayers subsidize the Federal Crop Insurance program that was created during the 1930s Dust Bowl to protect farmers against crop losses. Federal crop insurance losses, due in part to the devastating, ongoing drought, have tripled in the past three years to $16 billion in payouts for 2012, or $51 for every man, woman and child in America.
“This year will likely be costly too,” Lubber said. “The latest numbers from the U.S. Drought Monitor show more than 64 percent of the country is now experiencing some level of drought.”
In 2012, more than nine million acres burned in wildfires—an area larger than the state of Maryland—making it the third-worst fire year in U.S. history. In 2012, the Forest Service overspent its available fire suppression budget by $400 million, as it has almost every year for the last 20 years, transferring millions of dollars away from other land management projects. And climate models show a likely increase in fires in coming years.
“The costs are not only borne by the federal government,” said Lubber. “Wyoming and Montana spent more than $90 million of state money fighting wildfires in 2012.”
State taxpayer exposure
Extreme weather, influenced by climate change, creates other taxpayer risks. State governments are increasingly liable for hurricane damages as private insurers pull out, leaving state taxpayers subsidizing insurance loss claims for homes and businesses.
The state insurer in Florida, for example, is carrying the burden of more than one million homeowners’ policies—a financial catastrophe just waiting for state taxpayers the next time a major hurricane hits Florida. State government-loss exposure in hurricane-prone states (such as Florida, Texas and Massachusetts) now exceeds $885 billion, a 16-fold jump from 1990.
“As Americans pay their taxes on April 15, let’s consider what our political leaders—in Washington and our state capitals—are doing to address climate change,” Lubber added. “Let's hope, for our wallets’ sakes, they're tackling the issue head-on.”
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.