Weather wallops wallet

A new report by the Center for American Progress claims that man-made climate change is connected to increasing extreme weather events, and to costs associated with relief from events such as the ongoing regional drought, last year’s Pine Ridge wildfire near De Beque, and the recent massive flooding on the Front Range. Iillustation is a combination of photos by Dean Humphrey, Gretel Daugherty and the Associated Press.

A new report says Colorado received at least $620 million in federal disaster relief in the 2011-12 fiscal year, out of about $49 billion the report was able to break down by state nationwide.

The Center for American Progress says in its report that it provides “the first-known comprehensive estimate of federal disaster-recovery spending on a state-by-state basis.”

It also puts a disaster-relief price tag on the kind of weather-related events that it says are sometimes being linked to climate change. It says the study results point to a need for Congress “to include full funding for disaster relief in future budgets and spending bills so that Americans can better understand the cost of extreme weather — and the cost of inaction on climate change.”

Ironically, the study was released Sept. 11, during the same week Front Range residents were hit with the rising waters of an epic flood that some scientists may ultimately decide was exacerbated by climate change.

“The huge expenditure of federal disaster aid to Colorado reflects the growing threat posed by climate-related extreme weather events,” Anneli Berube of Environment Colorado said in a news release two days after the study’s release. “That threat is ever present for those along the Front Range who are trying to sand-bag homes and businesses from the torrent of water inundating much of the state yesterday and today.”

Although Colorado has had an eventful few years in terms of fires and floods, it actually ranked a fair ways down the list of states — 22nd — as a disaster-relief recipient for the fiscal year, the report analyzed. That relates to the fact that the largest amount of relief spending is agriculture-related. Colorado doesn’t have nearly as much agricultural production as a lot of states, noted state climatologist Nolan Doesken.

Texas led the nation in disaster relief aid for the year analyzed, at $5.2 billion. Of that, $4 billion entailed crop insurance payments. Of the more than $48 billion the study broke down nationwide, $28 billion was for crop insurance.

About $421 million of Colorado’s total was for crop insurance. At least $128 million was fire-related, with most of that for firefighting.

Altogether, the government spent nearly $62 billion nationwide in disaster relief for fiscal year 2011-12, but the study was unable to isolate state-by-state information on $13 billion of that.

The Center for American Progress describes itself as “an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.”

Its report says that over the 2011 and 2012 calendar years “there were 25 severe storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires that each caused more than $1 billion in 
economic damages, with a total price tag of $188 billion.” That amount also includes costs such as those incurred by private insurance and individuals.

It also notes that the American Meteorological Society analyzed extreme weather events that occurred in 2012 and in about half the cases found evidence that human-caused climate change was a contributing factor.

It said a third of the continental United States was experiencing drought as of Aug. 27, and noted that drought has reduced the amount of Colorado River water available to cities.

Doesken said average regional temperatures have increased by a degree or so Fahrenheit in recent decades.

“While it can be argued, there is good reason to believe that warmer temperatures in the (Southwest) increase the probability of both drought and floods,” he said.

He added that “Overall, our warming trend is consistent with the global warming trend, which is consistent with increased greenhouse gases.”

He said the warming in the region to date hasn’t been huge and, in fact, there’s been some leveling off in Colorado and for much of the country and world over the last few years.

But he added, “So far, every time there’s a new round of updated information it continues to support the idea of continued and in fact accelerating warming as we get later into the 21st century.”

He said trying to determine what role climate change, as opposed to random variability, might contribute to a specific storm is an emerging scientific field that will be applied to Colorado’s flooding. Warm air was in place before the storm, and warm air can hold more water vapor that can become rain.

He said his “back-of-the-
envelope” guess is that perhaps 5 percent or maybe more of the storm will be attributed to climate change.

The Center for American Progress says the 10 states receiving the most recovery aid in fiscal year 2011-12 “elected 47 climate-science deniers to the (U.S.) Senate and the House.”

It says Colorado has four such deniers. Berube said those four consist of Colorado’s Republican delegation to the House of Representatives, including 3rd District Rep. Scott Tipton, and pointed to a report quoting him as saying climate change is occurring but isn’t human-caused.

Tipton spokesman Josh Green responded, “Environmental stewardship is one of Congressman Tipton’s top priorities, and he believes that solutions to climate change must be based on sound science and must be designed to protect our natural environment, rather than to further any individual political ideology or special interest.”


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