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Climate Change

2006 Economic Impacts report

In 2006 a team of scientists and economists reached three conclusions about the effects of climate change on Washington's economy:

  1. Climate change impacts are visible and the economic effects are becoming apparent.
  2. The costs of climate change will grow as temperatures and sea levels rise.
  3. Climate change will also provide economic opportunities.

Temperatures

Scientists expect the climate in Washington to warm 0.5ºF every ten years. This is three times faster than the average rate from the 1900s to 2000. Compared to the 1970-1999 warming average the temperatures will increase:

  • 2° Fahrenheit by the 2020s
  • 3° Fahrenheit by the 2040s

Precipitation

Climate models show no consistent change in total annual rainfall through 2040. Because of
rising temperatures, winters will bring more rain and less snow in the mountains.

Visible impacts

  • Glaciers: Mountain glaciers in the North Cascades have lost 18 to 32 percent of their total volume since 1983.
  • Snow-pack: The average mountain snow-pack in the North Cascades (critical to summer stream-flows) has declined at 73 percent of mountain sites studied. Spring runoff is occurring earlier each year.
  • Peak flows: Stream flows are peaking earlier in the year in watersheds throughout the state, including the Columbia Basin.
  • Wildfires: The number of large (more than 500 acres) wildfires has increased from an average of 6 per year in the 1970s to 21 per year in the first part of the 21st century.
  • Rising sea levels: In Puget Sound, tectonic subsidence will combine with rising sea levels to create a 1 to 5 inch sea level rise each decade. Other areas will have a smaller impact.

Economic Impacts

The economic effects of climate change in Washington will grow as temperatures increase.
  • Direct costs of fighting wildfires may exceed $75 million per year by the 2020s. This is a 50 percent increase from current costs and does not take into account the costs of the lost timber value.
  • Water conservation costs to offset the decline in guaranteed water of Seattle's water supply due to climate change impacts could exceed $8 million per year by the 2020s and $16 million per year by the 2040s. Eastern Washington communities in Spokane and Yakima will face similar impacts.
  • Public health costs will increase due to smoke related health problems like asthma from wildfires.
  • Tourism and recreation losses related to forest closures and smoke intrusion from wildfires could increase in some locations. An increase in flooding will also affect this area of the state's economy.
  • Hydropower revenues may be affected as water management changes in response to rising temperatures. University of Washington researchers suggest at most a 5% loss or $166 million per year.
  • Consumers could face water price increases in some basins. Water conservation costs about $680,000 per million gallons per day.
  • Dairy cows are affected by higher-than-optimal temperatures. Dairy revenues in two counties may decline by as much as $6 million per year by the 2040s.
  • More frequent droughts in Yakima may cause crop losses. While drought does not occur every year, the averaged losses may increase by $66 million for Yakima. Other agricultural areas statewide are likely to be similarly effected.
  • New sea level rise projections could trigger costly re-design of long-term investments in shoreline protection such as Seattle's Alaskan Way seawall increasing its cost by $25 to $50 million. A 2-foot rise in the sea level will flood 35,848 acres and affect 44,429 people in the Puget Sound.
  • Flooding due to more intense rainstorms, impacts on public health due to heat and vector-related illness such as West Nile virus, and impacts on snow sports as well as salmon and other fisheries are likely to increase as the climate warms up.
  • Cumulative economic effects are usually larger than the sum of obvious individual sector effects, such as those listed above. This is because of interactions between industries and economic sectors which depend on each other. As one industry declines, another may follow.

Caveat

The report bases the cost assessment on gradual warming. However, if temperature thresholds are crossed at the global level this could trigger abrupt changes in climate conditions. If this happens, the economic costs of such changes would be much higher.