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The Cost of Climate Change: Taxpayers Are Dishing Out Billions to Farms

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Cost of climate change - Dr. Axe

The cost of climate change is impacting the entire U.S. food system. It’s also hitting taxpayers’ wallets, whether they realize it or not.

Analysts at Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health advocacy organization, used publicly available data from the United States Department of Agriculture to better understand how much money farmers receive in the wake of crop failures. These failures are often attributed to man-made climate change impacts.

The Cost of Climate Change: Research Findings

EWG found that farmers received more than $143.5 billion in federal crop insurance payouts from 1995 through 2020. Taxpayers subsidized the bulk of the payouts, and most claims were linked to drought or excessive rain events fueled by climate change.

The report also warns that the current crop insurance program pays out for damages, yet does nothing to require farmers to incorporate changes to better adapt to climate change — including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Without better policies requiring climate-smart farming decisions to mitigate the climate emergency and build resilience, the cost of the already astronomically expensive crop insurance program will keep growing at a runaway pace. And farmers will continue to struggle with the effects of extreme weather.” – Anne Schechinger, EWG Midwest director and agricultural economist

Here are some findings from the EWG report:

  • Crop insurance payments were four times higher in 2020 than 1995.
  • “Excess moisture,” including extreme flooding events, triggered 2.6 billion in payouts, compared to $684 million in 1995.
  • Drought triggered $1.65 billion in 2020 payouts, compared to $325 million in 1995.
  • EWG says the main problem is this: “USDA’s Crop Insurance Program doesn’t encourage or require farmers to adapt to climate change or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • Texas takes the cake when it comes to crop-loss bailouts, mainly due to extreme drought fueled by climate change.
  • The top 10 counties with the largest drought-related payouts were in Texas.

In many cases, farmers are receiving payouts for crop losses year after year, yet are not required to reduce pollution or turn to more climate-friendly farming practices.

What It Means

We’re already feeling the health effects of climate change. Beyond crop failures, even food that makes it to your table could be lacking in vitamins and minerals thanks to the link between climate change and nutrition in food.

Climate change is already touching almost every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

And the economic cost of climate change by 2050 is astounding if we remain on our current path.

Looking at the cost of climate change more broadly, the Swiss Re Institute, one of the world’s leading insurance giants, says we are on the current path to lose 10 percent of total economic value from climate change by 2050. The countries that did the least to create heat-trapping pollution are the ones most likely to be negatively impacted.

“Climate risk is a systemic risk and can only be addressed globally. We still have an opportunity to correct course now and construct a world that will be greener, more sustainable and more resilient,” says Jérôme Haegeli, Swiss Re’s Group chief economist.

In 2020 alone int he U.S., 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters totaled $95 billion in damages.

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information released a report in 2021 that tabulated the cost of climate change from weather and climate disasters.
  • Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 285 weather and climate disasters.
  • It only included events where the overall damage costs reached or exceeded $1 billion.
  • The cumulative cost for these 285 events exceeds $1.875 trillion.
Cost of climate change - Dr. Axe

Ways to Affect Change

One of the main things you can do to inspire others to act is to simply talk about climate change, and these conversations may not be what you think. Of course, some basic data may be helpful, but what really moves people is sharing from the heart.

What do you care about that’s climate-related? The possibilities are almost endless…

  • Extreme flooding, drought and wildfires impacting neighborhoods
  • The rise in Lyme disease
  • The decline in some of our favorite bird species
  • Electricity costs
  • Nutrition
  • Being able to be outside for extended times in the summer
  • Koalas listed as “endangered,” partially due to climate-field wildfires and ensuing loss of habitat
  • Invasive plant species threatening the health of our yards and forests

Climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe’s book, “Saving Us,” is the go-to guide on how to connect with others on this issue that impacts us all.

And remember: An estimated 72 percent of Americans understand climate change is happening now. Only 7 percent of the population are known as “Dismissives,” which Hayhoe describes as “someone who will discount any and every thing that might show climate change is real, humans are responsible, the impacts are serious, and we need to act now.”

Don’t spend your energy engaging with Dismissives. Instead, foster conversations with the remaining 93 percent of the population that understands we need to do something.

Here are other ways to engage, regardless of your political leanings, religion or race:

  • Let Congress know that we need to shift farming toward a more climate-resilient model in the 2023 Farm Bill.
  • Make a point to talk about climate change to at least one person every day.
  • Become educated. Read books like…
    • “Saving Us” by Katharine Hayhoe
    • “Under the Sky We Make” by Kimberly Nicholas
    • “Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation” by Paul Hawken
    • “Nature’s Best Hope” by Doug Tallamy

Conclusion

  • A recent analysis of USDA farm subsidy payments found that taxpayers shelled out more than $143 billion in federal crop insurance payments between 1995 and 2020.
  • The bulk of the losses were driven by climate changed-fueled drought and excessive rain events.
  • USDA keeps paying out for crop losses but doesn’t require farms make any changes to become more climate-resilient.
  • EWG is urging people to contact Congress and demand more climate-resilient solutions are implemented through the 2023 Farm Bill.

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