US Drought, Extreme Weather, High Food and Fuel Prices — How Fossil Fuel Dependence is Wrecking the US Economy

According to reports from the Wonkblog, the ongoing US drought knocked .2 percentage points off of US GDP growth during the second quarter. This figure is probably very conservative when you consider the massive impacts and total costs of this ongoing and expanding drought.

The historic drought has, so far, cost America more than 77 billion dollars, or about .5 percent of annual GDP. And with NASA, the WMO, and many other climate organizations now establishing a link between this year’s extreme drought and severe weather, the intransigent and carbon emitting fossil fuel companies, who continue to seek dominance for their dirty, dangerous, and depleting products, not mother nature, are primarily to blame.

If all this lost money were spent on job creation measures, it would support about three quarters of a million well-paying jobs. Such an investment would result in a big bump for US employment and overall prosperity. But that possibility is now gone as the money has been absorbed by damages.

Yet drought isn’t the only avenue through which fossil fuel related damage has come to the American economy. Other severe weather events have combined with the current drought to create the most extreme year for natural disasters ever in the US. This record year follows a series of increasingly damaging years since the 1980s. The damage just keeps happening year over year, even as it is increasing overall.

This year, total damage to the US economy due to weather disasters is currently well in excess of 100 billion dollars and the damage is still ongoing.

Moving on from extreme weather, we can shift to other harmful fossil fuel related impacts to the US economy. The first is the ever-growing cost of liquid fuels caused by a combination of growing demand and the depleting nature of a fossil resource. Overall, fuel costs have averaged higher than $90 dollars per barrel for 2012, the cost necessary to make fracked ‘tight oils,’ like those produced by the Bakken, profitable. At 18 million barrels per day for the US, the daily cost of this consumption is nearly 1 billion dollars or around $350 billion dollars per year, more than four times the cost of oil in the early 2000s.

Food also suffers from high energy prices and the stresses of drought. And with food prices rising due to increased energy costs, the public takes another hit of about an extra 50 billion dollars. The extra food costs due to drought were already counted in the 77 billion dollar figure, but they are worth mentioning again.

Even leaving out other costs from externalities such as the cost of deaths and adverse health effects coming from coal, the costs of foreign wars as a result of the necessity for a stable liquid fuel supply chain, and the costs of damage to US water supplies due to fracking, the total cost of harm caused by fossil fuels currently amounts to about 400 billion dollars for this year alone or about 2.5 % of GDP.

A very heavy blow. It represents the difference between the struggling economic growth we are seeing now and the much more rapid rates of growth during the 1990s when the weather was less severe and when fuel costs were much lower.

We can no longer provide a rationale for a continued economic growth when the basis for that growth is assumed to be the damaging and depleting fossil fuels. The very fuels which will make the droughts continue to be more frequent and more severe, which will continue to make the weather more damaging, and which, sooner than we expected, will drive the seas to rise and threaten many of our major cities. The very fuels whose cost, averaged over time, will keep going up as they become more difficult to locate and extract.

These fossil fuels, which are the source of so much harm, have now come to the point where they are no longer economical.

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Earth Alone

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