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Big Oil Must Pay for Climate Change. Now We Can Calculate How Much

It is possible for scientific evidence to help apportion responsibility for climate damages among fossil fuel producers. Our paper shows how

s communities in coastal Texas and Louisiana confront the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, another hurricane, Irma, fueled by abnormally warm waters, is barreling into the Caribbean and threatening Puerto Rico and Florida.

We know that the costs of both hurricanes will be enormous and that climate change will have made them far larger than they would have been otherwise. How much larger? Careful studies will take time but the evidence that climate change is warming ocean waters, increasing both sea level and the risk of extreme precipitation in these regions is well established.

On 29 October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into America’s east coast, a storm surge of more than nine feet caused extensive flooding damage throughout the affected region. Researchers have since determined that the damage from that storm surge was greatly worsened by climate change.

Sea level along the East Coast has risen by about eight inches since 1900, as oceans have warmed and expanded in response to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, with subsiding land adding insult to injury. According to one study, sea level rise increased Sandy’s flood damages to property in New York City alone by $2bn – more than $230 per New Yorker.

Such costs from storm damage attributable to climate change are just one piece of the story. New York City estimates that it will spend an estimated $19.5bn to prepare for climate change impacts through 2030. And researchers say developing countries most vulnerable to rising seas and increasing extreme weather will need between $140bn and $300bn annually by 2030 to help them cope.

Who should pay these costs? In the United States, the default assumption is that costs of climate damages and adaptation should be borne by taxpayers, through flood insurance programs, federal disaster relief funds and the like, as well as by affected individuals, families and private businesses.

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