Sustainability & Values #1

In blog #1 of the Sustainability & Values Series, we connect the dots to the hidden costs of continuing on the conventional path for with energy, health care and the environment. Understanding the full costs helps us to gain the will to change for the better.

Already Paying Huge Hidden Costs

We are all concerned about the price we pay, whether that price is for gas at the pump, food from a store, health care, or a night out.  Prices, particularly for energy and health care, often fluctuate widely, and we are upset as most prices progressively rise to new heights. And, it's a pretty safe bet that prices will continue to escalate for the rest of our lives.

As disturbing as these costs are, the real prices we pay are considerably higher. We’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg.  So, we should be many times more concerned. And unfortunately, due to climate change, the hidden costs of our current economy will also continue to rise.

What hidden costs?

If you think were getting more extreme weather lately, you’re right. According to a recent study by Environment Maryland, “extreme downpours are now happening 30 percent more often nationwide than in 1948. In other words, large rain or snowstorms that happened once every 12 months, on average, in the middle of the 20th century now happen every nine months. Moreover, the largest annual storms now produce 10 percent more precipitation, on average.” (see full article here)  There is no doubt that this is the result of climate change.

In the last 18 months here in Maryland, we experienced 2 severe hurricanes and a derecho, something most of us had never heard of before. And, we can expect more of the same in the future. So, it’s time to connect the dots.

Extreme weather already costs each of us money. When you look at all the hidden costs of climate change, a whole lot of money.

As we make cost-benefit decisions about conventional vs. clean energy sources or organics or alternative medicine, we need to include these hidden costs. Or, suffer the consequences of bad financial judgements.

Making it Personal

Let’s look at these hidden costs. Those 3 big storms caused massive power outages. At our office and home, we personally lost power twice, and 1 of those times was for over a week. Many other Marylanders suffered the same or worse.

We paid with large quantities of spoiled food, large losses of business revenue from our cancelled appointments and the inability of our staff to work. Plus, there was the cost of the many hours spent trying to get things back to normal. This was expensive.

And we were lucky. Many others in MD and elsewhere lost much more, especially from Sandy. The costs were huge just for these 3 instances.

Now, I realize that not all of these costs can be assigned to our energy use. We have always born costs from disasters. But, if disasters are happening more often, and they are more severe due to the effect of our energy use on climate change, then a portion of these costs must be assigned to our energy costs.

Too Big to Fathom

Now, add to the huge figure for just those 3 MD storms the costs of the other extreme weather occurrences around the U.S. – from other storms, fires and floods.

Now add in the costs of crop failures and worldwide disruptions (like for the Fujitsu nuclear accident), and you can start to feel how costly our energy really is. Truly, the dollars become too high for me to fathom.

The World Watch Institute’s website reports that, ” the world’s leading re-insurer, Munich Re, stated that between 1980 and 2011, the overall loss burden from weather catastrophes in North America was $1.1 trillion (in 2011 dollars). The insured losses amounted to $510 billion, and some 30,000 lives were lost.”

Also from World Watch, “…according to Munich Re, the number of weather-related loss events increased by approximately 500 percent in North America over the past three decades, compared with an increase of 400 percent in Asia, 250 percent in Africa, 200 percent in Europe, and 150 percent in South America. Another report notes that the United States set a record with 12 separate billion-dollar weather or climate disasters in 2011, with approximately $52 billion in aggregate damage. Hurricane Sandy is estimated to have caused economic damages worth $10–20 billion.”

Change the Way You Think

It is only sensible to start considering these hidden costs of climate change in our daily decisions on how we spend and invest our money. This is the starting place for us to find the will to make the switch to investing in alternatives, like energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable local farming, and alternative health care. Suddenly, the costs involved in switching are dwarfed by the costs of continuing on the same old path.

With the will, change becomes easier.

About this series:
I conceived and eventually wrote the Sustainability & Values Series during what turned out to be the final year of our Company, TerraLogos Energy Group, that is January to September, 2013. I am pleased to report that my values continue to change, evolve.  They have become stronger and expanded from the TerraLogos focus of energy and money, to also include
time, resources, health and satisfaction.     ~ Peter Van Buren, September 2015