Climate Change Could Cost The World Trillions More Than We Thought

The gross domestic product of the United States was nearly $17.5 trillion in 2014. That’s enough money to buy all the planet’s gold two times over.

Now consider this: If the world’s permafrost thaws, as a new study warns, humanity could be saddled with a bill that adds more than $43 trillion to the already massive climate-related debt the world will rack up in the next two centuries.


You can do the math yourself, but that’s more than two-and-a-half times America’s GDP and an economic death sentence “beyond conception,” says Kevin Schaefer, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and one of the authors of the report.

The report, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, looks at a previously underexamined contributor to global climate change: the permafrost, or the region of permanently frozen ground that occurs in the world’s coldest places.

Schaefer and co-author Chris Hope, a public policy expert at the University of Cambridge, find that unchecked global warming could thaw this band of ground and cause 10,000 years’ worth of trapped organic matter to decompose. This decomposition could easily double the amount of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere, Schaefer said.

“This frozen carbon is like broccoli in your freezer: If you thaw it out and put it in your fridge it’ll eventually decay and go bad,” he said.

That decay and the resulting methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will exacerbate climate change at a cost of $43 billion by 2200, the authors estimate. The costs associated with climate change range from the relatively small, such as the additional expense of more air conditioning, to the much more dramatic, like the loss of agricultural crops to drought and the destruction of cities from rising sea levels.

Schaefer and Hope estimate that —> Read More