Climate Change: Social cost of carbon now twice as bad

Carbon dioxide costs twice as much to the U.S, economy as believed just two years ago, according to the Federal government. They recently updated their estimated social costs of the greenhouse gas, doubling some earlier figures. This new calculation affects everything from microwave ovens to the future Keystone pipeline.

The report details how much each ton of carbon released into the atmosphere every year will cost the American economy in floods, agricultural damage and health care costs. What radically changed from a 2010 report is the expected cost to the economy of sea level rise, which increased significantly when more-complex climate modeling software came into use.

The new calculations "draw on the best available science to calculate the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Heather Zichal, President Obama's top climate adviser, said.

This calculation is used by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to assess the net costs and benefits of proposed rule changes. This means any change to that estimated cost can have a wide-ranging impact. The earlier report accessing the social cost of carbon (the first of its kind) measured the impact at $21 per ton each year.

The latest figures price that cost at $36 - an average of 60 percent higher, with some itemized estimates more than double what they were in the previous report. Current calculations peg that cost at $43 by 2020 and $71 in the year 2050. Most of this additional cost was due coastal damage from sea level rise and an expected reduction of agricultural output. The report was detailed enough to include the use of space heaters in a warmer climate in forming the new numbers.

Most onlookers did not notice the updated estimates for the social cost of carbon, which came out May 31, until they read the fine print in new standards for microwaves announced on the Energy Department website.

The White House stated that the microwave standard to take effect in 2016 will prevent nearly 42 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere over the next three decades, the same amount of CO2 produced by 12 million cars, and will save the economy $4.6 billion dollars. The regulations affect the usage of electricity by the ovens while in standby mode.

"[A]ppliance standards adopted over the last four years will save Americans about $400 billion on their utility bills through 2030," Ernest Moniz, Energy Secretary, said.  

Because of this little-noticed change in an economic variable, future green energy projects are suddenly going to look a lot more appealing for government regulators. That likely means easier government approvals and more green energy plants in the future.

Humans release 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, about 6.7 billion tons, or 20 percent, of that came form the United States in 2011.

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