Compare the cost: more natural disasters v. doing something about climate change

This dramatic video shows the beginnings of Queensland’s “inland tsunami”. This body of water, along with other tributaries, flowed into the Lockyer Valley and killed 14 people last week. From there it went on to inundate Brisbane, the city I grew up in. The worst floods there since 1974.

When I was a kid, they told us the ’74 flood was a once in 100 year event. That was 37 years ago.

Did climate change cause the recent floods here in Australia?

Well, if you listen to the climate scientists, you’ll find they won’t commit.

What they do say, and have been saying for awhile, is that climate change is likely to increase the number and severity of these unusual weather events. (More on that in the post I wrote following the Victorian bushfires of 2009 – ‘Extreme weather: is climate change responsible?‘)

The question I’m not hearing the media or politicians asking is: how does the cost of more floods, fires, storms and other natural disasters stack up against the price of tackling climate change?

Clearly in financial terms the cost an extreme weather event is huge. Just this one disaster – the Queensland floods – at this stage is said to have directly cost $6 billion, plus another $5 billion coming in clean-up. (It may go higher.) Now add other disasters to that. And then think about the cost in human lives.

If this cost is additional, if we could have avoided it, how does it compare to the cost of actually doing something about climate change?

A year ago, at Copenhagen, the leaders of the world’s nations failed to act on climate change. The rationale given was the cost to their economies.

A similar story here in Australia almost two years ago. Not only was the start of a scheme to help do something about climate change scuttled, a Prime Minister was deposed and the Opposition Leader who supported it dumped too. All due to scare campaign about “the cost to the economy.”

Same thing in the US, where Barack Obama’s own attempt at an emissions trading scheme went down the gurgler late last year. Again “cost” was the culprit.

You can see where I’m going with this. From an economic, straight dollars and cents point of view, it makes sense to tackle climate change. The additional cost of more extreme weather events alone is reason enough. (Plus there’s a strong argument that a push into clean industries will create jobs and even stimulate the economy. More in my post on a “Green New Deal‘.)

If you still don’t believe me, if you’re a hard-arse business brain, you might be interested to know that some of the first businesses in the world to take climate change seriously have been the insurance companies. Why? Because an increased number of extreme weather events makes a big dent on their bottom line. Pardon the pun, but it could even sink them.

Extreme weather events are a wake up call for us all. Don’t let the cynics fob this issue off.

Nature is bloody powerful. You only have to have been stuck in a rip in the ocean to get a taste. In the end, unfortunately, feeling the power  of nature may be the thing that finally motivates us to act.

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