White House Recognizes Higher Cost of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by Katie Greenhaw, 6/7/2013

In May, the Obama administration increased the "social cost of carbon," a monetized estimate of damage caused by carbon emissions that is used to analyze the impacts of certain standards, by roughly 60 percent. Updated to reflect new scientific modeling, the new figure may help agencies implement tougher standards to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

The Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis states:

[The social cost of carbon] is intended to include (but is not limited to) changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services due to climate change.

By incorporating the higher costs of carbon into cost and benefits analyses, the new estimate will make it easier for agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to justify higher caps on carbon emissions. The White House did not publicize the new estimate, but unveiled new energy efficiency standards for microwave ovens that used the updated value. A spokeswoman from OMB told The Hill that the “updated values are well within the range of mainstream estimates; indeed, similar estimates are used by other governments, international institutions, and major corporations.”

The following graph shows that carbon emissions have dropped somewhat since 2007 as a result of tougher standards, but scientists say that emission levels in the U.S. need to return to 1990 levels to just stabilize climate damage; and this does not estimate the global impact of increased carbon emissions that will come from India and China as car ownership increases.

Environmental and public health advocates hope that the new cost estimates signal that President Obama is now willing to tackle climate change, a commitment he made in his second inaugural address in January.

Without further reductions on harmful emissions, we can expect air pollution to increase the prevalence of asthma attacks over time.

U.S. Carbon EmissionsAsthma - United States

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This is borderline dishonest. There is no direct connection between increased levels of CO2 and any perceptible change in "air pollution." The indirect connection used to talk about asthma attacks is based on the theory that ragweed may thrive as the climate changes. But if you want to treat that as a serious social problem, surely there would be much more cost-effective ways of doing so than to try to reduce worldwide CO2 levels. If the asthma attacks are such a concern, why aren't environmentalists championing a ragweed eradication campaign?

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