From the food we eat to the roofs over our heads, the warming of the earth's atmosphere will have a profound financial impact on nearly every part of our daily lives. And we're not talking pocket change. The temperature increase associated with climate change could reduce the income of an average person by 23 percent by 2100, according to one study from the University of California–Berkeley.
Here are six ways climate change could hurt your wallet.
Health costs. A warming climate affects several key environmental contributors to good health: clean air, clean water, nutritious food and safe shelter. Rising temperatures mean illnesses from extreme heat. Increased frequency of severe weather means more injuries. Climate change also means changing wind patterns resulting in more ground-level ozone, or smog, more airborne particulates from more frequent wildfires and even increased plant pollen, which all lead to higher incidence of asthma and cardiovascular disease. Dirty water promotes the spread of water- and insect-borne diseases, such as cholera and malaria. The costs to manage these risks will depend on who you are (the elderly and the young are most at risk) and where you are (some regions will be harder hit than others). We can all expect to pay more for health care and perhaps more via taxes and other fees as we attempt to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Food costs. Climate change is expected to reduce crop and livestock yields during the next century, pushing up the price of food, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You will pay more at the grocery store and at the restaurant. Because so many agricultural commodities find their way into other, nonfood products (corn into ethanol, for example, or soy into lubricants), reduced supply of these key resources will impact other sectors of the economy. Even if our abundance in the U.S. spares us the severest costs of a shrinking food supply, rising global prices alone will negatively impact our wallets. A 5 percent increase in global food prices reduces U.S. gross domestic product by 0.8 percent the following year, according to a 2016 Brookings Institution study.
Wage costs. It's tough to work outside in the heat – and as global temperature rises, it's only going to get tougher. If nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gases, 1.8 billion labor hours will be lost to the heat alone by 2100, resulting in $170 billion in lost wages, according to estimates from the EPA. Those missing dollars ripple through the economy, harming not just the families of the laborers who lose them, but also everyone who relies on them.
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Severe weather costs. One area where climate change really packs a punch to the wallet is costs associated with severe weather – everything from droughts to hurricanes. The year of 2016 saw the second-highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters in the nation's history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In all, the U.S was battered by 15 such events last year (there were 16 in 2011, the highest for any year on record), with total direct costs of more than $1.1 trillion. That figure does not include indirect costs such as lost wages or health care related costs. So far, as of July, the U.S. has experienced nine billion-dollar weather disasters this year, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
Energy costs. When the temperature goes up, so does demand for electricity to run air conditioners. The net effect of warmer winters that require less heating and hotter summers that require more cooling will be an increase in energy costs to the average American household of 10 to 22 percent, according to the National Climate Assessment. That's because winter heating comes from a mix of energy sources, including electricity, fuel oil and gas, which spreads demand across several sources, while summer cooling comes primarily from electricity alone.
Transportation costs. Severe weather plays havoc on the nation's transportation infrastructure. High heat can bend railways, soften asphalt and expand steel in bridges and other structures. Coastal and river flooding scours roadbeds and bridge supports. Rising sea levels inundate ports and coastal communities. As our infrastructure comes under threat, we will be forced to spend more to maintain it – or, with increasing likelihood, to replace it. We will see these costs in rising taxes and user fees, higher insurance rates and more wear and tear on our vehicles. We will also see it in higher prices for nearly everything we buy as transportation disruptions along the supply chain are transferred to consumers.
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