Spend the Money

People in climate change frequently emphasize that rich countries can afford to pay the cost of climate change, while for some countries, the costs are expected to exceed their GDP.

However, while we in rich countries can afford the bills, it should be emphasized as well that some of us resent the money it takes to mitigate or pay the cost of environmental disasters. Just because we can afford the costs of our behavior doesn’t mean that we will pay them.

Neglecting for now issues of Louisiana pork and how more than sufficient pork means insufficient funds for real needs, money spent strengthening levees and protecting wetlands would have been less costly. Better local and national laws and enforcement could have limited coastal development. It costs money to protect the environment and thereby the ecosystem services they provide, but it also means saying no, we can’t live everywhere we want and engage in whatever activities give us pleasure.

Now the bill for the Great Lakes has come due. $20 billion, or $70/person. Don’t say that it can come out of missile defense which none but its advocates believe has any chance of working, or out of subsidies for oil companies, or Alaskan transportation pork — that money is needed elsewhere.

One fifth of fresh surface water is in the Great Lakes. It is home to ecosystems in two countries and many states, and is as well a site many birds visit in stopovers.

It’s a poor assumption that we can allow large ecosystems such as wetlands and lakes to be destroyed. We’re going to have to pay the cost, because the costs of not repairing these ecosystems are likely to be much higher. Just as homeowners need to schedule roof maintenance and repair, or the costs will be higher, it is important for our nation to schedule ecosystem maintenance and repair. Assuming these costs will come due and that they must be paid will hopefully improve governance at both regional and national levels.

Is any group considering taxing industries (eg, shipping) that contribute so heavily to these problems?

For more on zebra mussels, check out USGS’s factsheet (PDF).

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