Health Tab for Climate Change: $14 Billion

| Tue Nov. 8, 2011 10:32 AM EST

Climate change-related disasters caused $14 billion in health costs in first decade of the 2000s, according to a new paper published this week in the journal Health Affairs. The paper looks at six case studies of weather events in the US, all of the type predicted to increase or grow more severe as climate change progresses, like hurricanes, floods, and heat waves. It then determines the cost of disease, injury, and death related to those events.

Each individual event can be pricey. Ozone pollution in the US over the period of 2000 to 2002 cost $6.5 billion in emergency room visits, missed days at work or school, or early deaths (a particular concern for the elderly and people with preexisting respiratory conditions). The California heat wave in 2006, during which record temperatures were recorded all over the state over a two-week period, cost $5.4 billion. A lot of those costs came from hospitalizations and ER visits for problems like dehydration and heat stroke.

Sure, going to the hospital is pricey. But dying isn't free, either. The researchers used the EPA's value of a statistical life—a rough estimate of how each individual life costs—of $7.9 million.

$14 billion is a pretty big number for just 10 years. But that's only looking at a handful of specific incidents. There are also costs associated with climate change that don't stem from extreme events—things like increased problems related to asthma or allergies, or even problems like kidney stones, as we reported last year.

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