We’ve all heard the predictions. As global warming continues, future generations will face more uncertain weather and a range of ever-more-frequent related disasters. Storms will become more intense. Between storms, warmer weather will make forests and farms drier and more prone to drought and wildfire. Sea level will rise and marine industries will become more uncertain as ocean waters warm and acidify. It all sounds pretty scary. Future generations will need to be prepared, resourceful and resilient.
But will it also be more expensive for them?
There are a few things that are certain to go up in price. For one, insurance costs for homes and businesses will go up. We already see this in places around the world, where wildfire and flood risk have increased. That is, if insurance is available at all, since there are now places where insurance companies have stopped offering insurance due to the risk.
The other price increase that seems assured is council rates, as councils face the increased costs of upgrading and maintaining vital infrastructure. Sewage treatment plants will need upgrading to prevent spills during ever larger floods and coastal storm surge as sea level rises. Municipal water supply systems will need to be diversified and fortified with additional storage reservoirs as droughts become more common and intense. Think of Auckland last year.
Coastal property abandoned due to sea level rise will need to be bought, in part if not in whole, by councils, since they consented those developments in the first place. Think of Matata, where the council recently bought-out coastal properties in an area subject to flooding. There may be help from central government with these costs, but councils will be expected to front a major share.
Although not quite as certain, all indications point to food prices increasing, as farmers worldwide deal with ever more extreme weather events. Floods, droughts and extreme heat, winds, rainfall and unseasonal frost and hail have ruined crops since the earliest days, and these are all expected to become more frequent as climate change progresses. More frequent crop failures and an increasing cost of crop insurance can’t help but be reflected in higher food prices.
If this all sounds pretty scary, wait! There’s more!
Added to these will be the indirect costs to society due an ongoing battle with climate change. Even if Aotearoa and the rest of the world manage to achieve net zero carbon emissions in this century, the fight will be far from over. IPCC climate models show that, in order to stabilise the world climate at a liveable level, greenhouse gas emissions will likely need to go “negative” for decades following. This means pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, either biologically (through forests, wetlands, capture in soils, biochar and aquaculture), or industrially, through burning of biomass and capturing the carbon dioxide or by capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air.
At this point, biologic methods are the more cost effective and are likely to continue to be into the next century but these projects will require active management in order to prevent them from losing carbon due to wildfire, disease and drought. This means many of society’s workers and resources will be devoted to developing and maintaining these carbon “sinks”, and will not be available to grow food or support other industries. Removing carbon dioxide industrially will likely take even more resources away from our economy.
No matter how we cut it, the worsening climate emergency is not only going to make our children’s and future generation’s lives more difficult due to extreme weather events and ecosystem disruption, it is going to make their lives more expensive. In a sense, they will pay for a portion of today’s prosperity, the prosperity allowed us by the burning of fossil fuels.
It is sobering to think, that when we jump into the car to run to the market for a litre of milk, much of the carbon dioxide that comes out of the tail pipe will someday need to be removed from the atmosphere at the diligence and expense of future generations, so that they can have a liveable planet.
The message here is clear. The sooner we cut our emissions, the less it is going to cost our children’s children and their children to come.
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.