Dawn Shirreffs: The Cost of Inaction on Climate Change

Floridians are already experiencing the impacts of climate change— from persistent flooding to higher temperatures.

Those threats to our health and economy will compound over the next 20 years if climate change is left unchecked. Understanding these near-term climate costs, which range from higher electricity costs to lower tax revenues, is essential as the state and its residents seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Costs of Inaction, a new analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), provides Floridians with the data needed to calculate the near-term costs of climate change to their family budgets and businesses and encourages policymakers to reduce climate-warming pollution.

Decreased Property Tax Revenues: The increased severity and frequency of coastal and inland flooding leads to an economic domino effect that damages and destroys homes, reducing their value and impacting associated property tax revenue. In turn, lower tax revenue will result in less funding for public schools, safety and infrastructure.

While Florida’s hurricanes often grab headlines for their devastating damage, coastal—and even inland—flooding is a huge concern. By 2030, Florida’s coastal counties could lose more than $100 million in property taxes from flooding linked to sea-level rise and increasingly heavy rains. By 2045, that number is expected to drastically increase to $347 million.

Counties in greater Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida will suffer particularly high losses due to chronic, disruptive flooding which now occurs more than 26 times every year. By 2045, both Lee and Manatee Counties will each lose $22 million in property tax revenue due to chronic flooding. These estimates do not even account for the costs associated with flooding from hurricanes which will drive losses even higher and place an even greater strain on local budgets.

Higher Electricity Bills: Floridians, who already pay more than most Americans for their electricity, will see their bills rise. While higher electricity costs will affect all residents, low-income households will be particularly hard-hit. These increases will affect businesses as well, costing them a projected—and potentially avoidable — $7,688 in total electricity costs by 2040.

Residents of Sunbelt states like Florida, where extreme heat waves are more frequent, rely on air conditioning not only for comfort but to remain healthy on the hottest days. Floridians already pay 13 percent more than the national average for electricity. Without action on climate, they are expected to see increases of 5.3 percent annually–or $1.2 billion every year–on their electric bills.

Keeping homes cool during extreme heatwaves will particularly impact low-income households, who already spend 8-10 percent of their income on electricity costs. By 2040, households will have spent $2,450 in avoidable costs.

Rising Heat-Related Deaths: Additional heat-related deaths are expected to outpace some forms of cancer in Florida. As temperatures rise, so does mortality. Heat-related deaths—the most caused by any weather-related phenomenon in the United States—are only projected to increase with climate change.

Florida will experience some of the largest increases in heat-related deaths—as many as 9 per 100,000, on par with the number of people who die from kidney disease in the state, and higher than the number of deaths associated with brain cancer or high cholesterol.

Future Outlook:  The single most important response to worsening climate impacts is to reduce climate-warming pollution.  By powering our homes and businesses with renewable energy, we can reduce pollution, create good jobs and keep electricity affordable.  Florida can develop a robust resilience strategy that embraces nature-based solutions, like mangrove islands and coral reefs, to help us sequester carbon and protect us against storm surge.  Lastly, deploying strong electric vehicle infrastructure will facilitate disaster evacuations and position Florida as an electric vehicle technology leader.

To stay strong and resilient, we need to look at our risks, design comprehensive cost-avoiding solutions and work together to safeguard our communities and economy.

That’s not just smart science, it’s smart policy. Explore EDF’s Florida county-level map to see how climate change will impact you where you live.

 

Dawn Shirreffs is the Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

 

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