Trump says he won’t pay trillions for climate change. But he already is.
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President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE did not mince words in his response to the U.N.’s major climate report on Monday. While he conceded that our climate is changing, he isn’t sure if it’s manmade, he thinks it will change back again (though didn’t specify the timeframe), and he definitely does not want to pay to fix it.

But here’s the problem: The president of the United States is already spending money on climate change—loads of it, in fact—and so are businesses, communities, and Americans from every walk of life. And the bill is only going to soar further in the coming years.


Consider a report released last year from the Government Accountability Office—one of President Trump’s own federal agencies—which found that climate change has cost the federal government over $350 billion in the last decade, largely due to extreme weather and wildfires. Without immediate government action, the costs created by environmental change will continue to climb, generating a mind-boggling economic price tag that will near $300 billion annually by 2050, according to EPA projections. Let that sink in.

Of course, we already experience the tangible costs of climate change with every hurricane—which are becoming stronger and more frequent—that batters our coasts. For example, the total cost of Hurricane Michael will take time to assess, but initial reports likened the destruction to that of Hurricane Andrew, which wreaked $25 billion in damages to south Florida in 1992. And this does not include the irreplaceable, human costs of lives lost, or the anguish caused by the destruction of a family’s home and everything in it.

This isn’t only a coastal problem, either. Since 2011, our home state of Indiana has already faced more than $6 billion in costs to address the impacts of extreme weather. And with temperatures expected to rise by several degrees mid-century, corn yields could decrease by as much as 20 percent, threatening the multi-billion dollar industry of our most valuable crop—not to mention the grocery bills of middle-class families.

How about our children? They surely don’t want to foot the bill—but amidst our inaction, they’ll ultimately pay for it, and with interest. According to a 2016 study from NextGen Climate and Demos, a 24-year old college graduate can expect to lose over $185,000 in lifetime wealth as a result of climate change’s economic impact. Whether it’s our generation or those that follow, there is no escaping the cost of climate change.

And what’s even stranger about the president’s remarks is that he is ignoring the tremendous economic opportunities available to us if we’re willing to invest. The flip side of the environmental balance sheet shows us that addressing climate change won’t only save us trillions of dollars in expenses—let alone the future of our very planet—it will also spur innovation, drive growth and create jobs.

For example, while it’s clear that consumers who purchase hybrid or electric cars save money at the pump and reduce their own carbon footprint, they also support skilled technical jobs for those who manufacture and maintain those vehicles and make U.S. auto manufacturers more competitive in the global market.

The same is true for businesses building green offices fueled by renewable energy, or cities—like our own state capital of Indianapolis—converting its outdated street lights to energy efficient LEDs. Managers and mayors alike value these investments because they protect their bottom line while curbing emissions (and enhancing public safety at the same time). Efforts like these can also help boost burgeoning industries like wind and solar, which are creating jobs at a clip that’s 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Although President Trump may not realize it yet, it’s clear that the best answer for the health of our land, our oceans and our communities is also the best answer for our pocketbooks. To instead argue that not responding to climate change is the less expensive option is as false as claiming the oceans aren’t warming, the ice caps aren’t melting and our environment isn’t changing. 

The more we do now, the fewer disaster cleanups to fund, the fewer wildfires to extinguish and the fewer farmers to subsidize after a crop-destroying drought.

We work with colleagues every day who are assessing the problems we face as a result of climate change and creating solutions that are better for our planet, our communities, and—critically—our economies, too. Working together to find practical, implementable solutions to environmental change is not only the best cost-saving measure we have available, it’s also the key to securing sustainable economic and job growth in new, innovative industries.

The days of ignoring climate change are over. Not just scientifically, not just politically, but economically as well. To claim otherwise at this point is a failure of judgement that we simply cannot tolerate. 

Ellen Ketterson is a distinguished professor of biology at Indiana University. She is also the principal investigator of IU’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge Initiative. Janet McCabe is a former assistant administrator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the current assistant director of policy and implementation for the IU Environmental Resilience Institute.