More than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed. Entire states in the Southeast and the Corn Belt may lose much of their agriculture as farming shifts northward in a warming world. Heat and humidity will probably grow so intense that spending time outside will become physically dangerous, throwing industries like construction and tourism into turmoil.
That is a picture of what may happen to the United States economy in a world of unchecked global warming, according to a major new report released Tuesday by a coalition of senior political and economic figures from the left, right and center, including three Treasury secretaries stretching back to the Nixon administration.
By Justin Gilis for The New York Times
Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
At a time when the issue of climate change has divided the American political landscape, pitting Republicans against Democrats and even fellow party members against one another, the unusual bipartisan alliance of political veterans said that the country — and business leaders in particular — must wake up to the enormous scale of the economic risk.
“The big ice sheets are melting; something’s happening,” George P. Shultz, who was Treasury secretary under President Richard M. Nixon and secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview. He noted that he had grown concerned enough about global warming to put solar panels on his own California roof and to buy an electric car. “I say we should take out an insurance policy.”
The former Treasury secretaries — including Henry M. Paulson Jr., a Republican who served under President George W. Bush, and Robert E. Rubin, a Democrat in the Clinton administration — promised to help sound the alarm. All endorse putting a price on greenhouse gases, most likely by taxing emissions.
“I actually do believe that we’re at a tipping point with the planet,” Mr. Paulson said in an interview at his home in Chicago. “A lot of things are going to happen that none of us are going to like to see.”
Speaking Tuesday morning at a news conference in New York, Mr. Rubin urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to take a tougher stance in requiring that publicly held companies disclose the climate-related risks they may face. While many companies have started issuing such warnings to investors, the disclosures are often vague and inadequate, he said.
“I have come to believe that climate change is the existential issue of our age,” Mr. Rubin said. “I believe that investors should insist that companies disclose their risks, including the value of assets that could be stranded.”
He was referring to warnings that assets worth trillions of dollars are at risk of being stranded, or rendered obsolete, including vast coal and oil deposits that will most likely have to be left in the ground if dangerous levels of global warming are to be prevented.
The campaign behind the new report, called Risky Business, is funded largely by three wealthy financiers who are strong advocates of action on global warming: Mr. Paulson, who with his wife, Wendy, has helped finance conservation efforts for decades; Thomas F. Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund executive and Democrat who is pushing to make global warming a central issue in political races around the country; and Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, who now urges cities to confront the threat of climate change.