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GAO study: Damage to agriculture from climate change

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress. GAO evaluates federal programs and provides analyses to help Congress make informed funding decisions. Sens. Maria Cantwell (WA) and Susan Collins (ME) requested the GAO to evaluate how climate change impacts will increase costs for the federal government and presumably need more tax money to support.
GAO reviewed two national scale studies and asserted it interviewed many national experts. The two studies reviewed by GAO are The American Climate Prospectusstudy…produced by the Rhodium Group in 2014 to assess the economic effects of potential climate changes on different sectors of the U.S. economy and regions of the country.” The Rhodium Group, LLC is located in New York City and is a nonprofit which does not list its board of directors. No background information is provided by the Rhodium Group but its web page makes claims regarding its research capabilities.
The second study relied on by GAO is EPA’s study entitled Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis. EPA’s study reviewed future greenhouse gas emissions growth, climate sensitivity, natural variability and climate model selection. There is no indication to the experts GAO interviewed and I would suspect none were the experts who signed the petition filed with EPA which claims greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are not endangering the planet.
Federal dollars spent on weather events
The GAO advised the two senators that $350 billion is being spent by the federal government in 2017 because of extreme weather and fire events. GAO believes these numbers will increase and that floods and drought once considered rare will become more common and intense because of climate change. The letter to the senators indicates “A November 2016 assessment by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council of Economic Advisors found that recurring costs that the federal government incurred as a result of climate change could increase by $12 billion to $35 billion per year by mid-century and by $34 billion to $112 billion per year by late century,…” GAO admits that measuring the effects of climate change in the United States is difficult to measure. GAO says models produce imprecise results, imprecise climate model uncertainty, and that it is difficult to model climate change over long time frames.
Notwithstanding these caveats, GAO relies on a report by the Rhodium Group which had its project funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Paulsen Institute, Skoll Global Threats Fund, and the Rockefeller Family Fund. The Rhodium study was published by the Columbia University Press in 2015.
EPA’s climate change study and the Rhodium study plus experts “…suggested that potential economic effects of climate change in the United States could be significant and unevenly distributed.” As expected, agriculture is examined closely. On page 20 of the GAO climate change report, it is indicated there could be a change in our crop yields because of temperature, precipitation, and carbon dioxide fertilization. GAO projects between 2020-2039 agriculture could benefit by $8.5 billion to a loss of $9.2 billion. From 2040-2059, GAO estimates crop yields could possibly benefit from carbon dioxide fertilization by as much as $8.2 billion and lose as much as $19 billion. Another economics chart on page 22 indicates that if we have significant global emissions reductions in the United States, agriculture could save as much as $1.2-1.4 billion by 2050.
Forestry might have increased economic benefits by as much as $9.6 billion by 2050.  EPA suggests that “…estimated costs of climate changes without any emissions reductions…[will be] $5.0 trillion in economic costs to coastal property from climate change through 2100…”
According to the American Climate Prospectus study, “…the Southeast, Midwest, and Great Plains regions will likely experience greater combined economic effects than other regions…”
The purpose of this GAO study is to look at potential effects of climate change and therefore federal decision makers can better manage climate risks. If you believe that, I am sure you believe the government is here to help you.
(This article first ran in Farm Futures on October 31, 2017.)
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