Billions of dollars of property damage along the Eastern Seaboard. Sharply reduced yields of corn, wheat and soy at Midwestern farms. Rising sea levels threatening military installations in Southern California.
These and other risks from climate change are spelled out in a new bipartisan report that attempts to tally the potential toll on the economy and to push what has been a highly politicized issue into corporate boardrooms for serious consideration.
The report, titled Risky Business, comes from a coalition of high-powered business and political figures, including three former Treasury secretaries.
The money men who backed the project are Risky Business co-chairs Henry M. Paulson Jr., Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush; former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; and Thomas F. Steyer, a hedge fund manager and big Democratic donor. The trio commissioned the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm, to study the economic impact of global warming.
A key conclusion of the report is that the risks vary, sometimes widely, by region and industry sector. By 2050, it warns, Americans could face double or triple the number of extremely hot days (temperatures exceeding 95 degrees) compared with the annual average over the past 30 years.
The study estimates that communities in the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast could see storm-related property damage jump by as much as $3.5 billion a year by 2030 and possibly more than double that given likely hurricane conditions.
"If we stay on our current climate path, some homes and commercial properties with 30-year mortgages in places in Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana and elsewhere could quite literally be underwater before the note is paid off," the report says.
The Southwest faces some of the biggest risks as the climate heats up: Less snow on mountains could lead to decreases in spring runoffs in the Rockies and California as high temperatures cause evaporation of existing reservoirs.
The report also notes that if current conditions continue, the sea level along the coastline of San Diego will likely rise up to 1.2 feet before 2050. There is a 1-in-100 chance, the study goes on to say, that sea levels could rise by as much as 5.5 feet by the end of the century, which could imperil major Marine installations and naval bases.
Although the report details these and other potential harm from rising temperatures, the report states that "our goal in this risk assessment is not to dictate policy pathways." Rather, the group says it wants the U.S. business community "to play an active role in the public discussion around climate mitigation."
"If we have a common, serious, non-partisan language describing the risks our nation may face from climate change," the report states, "we can use it as the springboard for a serious, non-partisan discussion of the potential actions we can take to reduce those risks."
Risky Business committee members also include George P. Shultz, Treasury secretary in the Nixon White House in the early 1970s, and Robert E. Rubin, who held that post in the Clinton administration two decades later.
It remains to be seen how much the report and exhortation from such prominent figures in finance and government can help defuse a politically charged issue or change the short-term thinking in boardrooms.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday it had no immediate comment on the report.
The National Assn. of Manufacturers, which like the chamber opposes the Obama administration's recent proposal on reducing carbon emissions from coal power plants, issued a statement saying U.S. policies to control greenhouse gases must be made in concert with other major emitting nations. (The Risky Business report tallied the potential harm only to the U.S. economy.)
In a statement, the manufacturers group's vice president, Ross Eisenberg, said: "Unilateral regulations, like those being contemplated by the current administration, will only make manufacturers less competitive and ensure that the next generation of energy technologies are developed elsewhere."