Climate Losses

By Beacon Staff

Daytime temperatures at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, reached 61 degrees. The same day national news warned about a super storm at lower latitudes and 6,000 miles away in Virginia. News said to prepare for a “catastrophic event,” calling it a “beast of a storm.”

This month’s local climate rally was bitter cold in Whitefish while erratic heat waves pounded the Arctic.

The New York Times reported that weather projections say many ski resorts would experience half as much snow during our kids’ lifetime. That poses an economic impact to a $10 billion industry employing hundreds of thousands of people.

Last August Gov. Steve Bullock asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for weather-related damages from a super hail storm. Farmers growing crops like wheat, potatoes and hay in the Gallatin Valley suffered crop losses from 40 to 80 percent. Some had crop insurance.

The state hail program paid out a record 186 percent of premiums. Crop insurance claims exceeded $14 million in Montana. It was record hail damage.

The Farm Bill law funds $120 billion in crop protection over the decade. Projections for cotton crop insurance rise 44 percent up to $466 million in 2023.

President Barack Obama and Vilsack launched seven “climate hubs” to help farmers cope with changing weather. The federal hubs will be located in rural communities in states like Colorado and Oregon.

The USDA says the climate is changing the growing season, pushing some crops further north. The agency says the cost of drought was $50 billion over three years and fire seasons are two months longer than last decade.

Farm Bill-funded climate losses are small in size compared to super storm Sandy’s cost of $65 billion as salt water poured into New York City subways.

Congress won’t debate climate change. But Congress funds big weather crop or property losses for some farmers and homeowners.

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner scheduled a political fundraiser with Rep. Vern Buchanan in Sarasota, Fla. Waterfront homeowners in coastal areas like Florida were facing big insurance premium hikes.

Bigger homes faced premium increases of tens of thousands of dollars. FEMA announced that new homeowner insurance rates would be delayed two years.

Super storms Katrina and Sandy changed the way insurance companies and banks look at weather risk. More mortgages require costly flood insurance for commercial and residential policies.

Obama is currently accepting comments on his agency’s review of the national pipeline proposed from the tar sands of Canada, through Montana and south.

The agency in part analyzed the greenhouse emissions of how tar sands are transported. With little surprise oil transported by pipeline emits less greenhouse gasses than the rail or vessels. The agency said pipelines are safer than rail for transporting crude.

The number of crude loading and off-loading rail facilities has exploded in the past three years along the backbone and foothills of the nation by the Rocky Mountains.

Who knows what Obama decides on the pipeline? People twice elected him to make these kinds of decisions. But Obama is seeking comments on his agencies’ analysis.

Congress has done nothing to address climate change but funds climat- related losses. And with midterm elections pending and control of Congress at stake, expect little action.

The pipeline decision is not about long-term jobs. Major road construction or hiring teachers offer more jobs. The agency framed the pipeline analysis about efficiently, pitting one mode of crude oil transport against the next. But the political issue is about exporting tar sands.

Few expect Obama to make the pipeline decision this year. Any tar sands pipeline now would likely disenfranchise too many college-aged midterm voters who seek real conservation and more power from energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal.

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