Climate slowdown

Damage to Nevada economy charted

Air conditioning units installed on recently renovated structures like the Silver Club Hotel in Sparks and the Golden Phoenix Casino Hotel in Reno—both converted to apartments—will be given quite a workout in the years ahead, according to a new study, and will eat up some of Nevada’s economic growth.

Air conditioning units installed on recently renovated structures like the Silver Club Hotel in Sparks and the Golden Phoenix Casino Hotel in Reno—both converted to apartments—will be given quite a workout in the years ahead, according to a new study, and will eat up some of Nevada’s economic growth.


Higher power bills.

More crime.

Declining productivity.

More deaths from heat.

Economic slowdown.

That’s what Nevadans have to look forward to unless they—and the rest of the country—change their ways, according to 12 scientists in a new study.

“Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States” was published by the journal Science on June 30. In dense, essentially unintelligible (to the layperson) prose, the authors warn of the dangers of business-as-usual.

Because of the difficulty of deciphering the verbiage of the study, we contacted James Rising, a researcher at the Energy and Resources Group at University of California, Berkeley and one of the authors of the study, to narrow the focus to the Great Basin. His prognosis for Nevada is grim.

“There is certainly a lot of uncertainty about the impacts in that region, but we can give some general sense of what to expect,” he wrote in an email. “Across the state, unless there is strong action to curb emissions, there are going to be heat-related deaths that are about on-par with current vehicle accident deaths (13 deaths per 100,000 [people] per year), and considerable increases in per-person energy expenditures (the equivalent of $250 per person for current wages). We also expect increases in violent crime and decreases in the productivity of workers. All told, these impacts will cost Nevada about 4 percent of its total income.”

We asked for a time frame.

“By mid-century, Nevada is expected to have warmed by about 3 [degrees Farenheit], irrespective of climate policy,” Rising wrote. “By then, labor productivity will be down about a half percent, and there will be about 5-10 deaths per 100,000 people per year. That’s going to be a loss of about 1 percent of Nevada’s GDP. The rate of impacts increase in the second half of the century, about 3 times faster.”

He said there are things scholars cannot yet assess, such as the impact on ecosystems, changes in infectious diseases and water losses. But the authors of the study hope locals will use the information they are offering now to prepare.

The inability to chart the water future is of considerable concern in this desert state. There are areas of the United States where water is of little concern and residents don’t even worry about conservation. Nevada is not one of them. Its water supply relies on snowmelt, and the life of the snowpack from one winter to the next sometimes barely makes it through the warm weather months.


Many of the impacts are likely to have further effects, such as need for more police as crime increases.

“The Las Vegas area has the most to lose: around 7 percent of the city’s income due to direct damages from climate change, and almost twice the death rate we see for the rest of the state,” Rising said.

“Reno in particular will fare better, better than most of Nevada and better than the United States average. That’s partly driven by slower rates of growth in the Reno area than elsewhere.”

Some Nevada counties will also benefit from “milder” winters.

It may come as a surprise to some local boosters that slow growth has become Reno’s friend. But benefits to Reno and other parts of the state may be of little comfort, since the Clark County economy dominates the state economy, and there will be ripples from Las Vegas problems that affect northern communities. The entire state’s fate can be tied to the health of the Clark County economy.

This week, Inside Climate News reported, “As early as April, wildfires had scorched more than two million acres in the United States—nearly the average consumed in entire fire seasons during the 1980s. At least 20 new, large fires have ignited in the West in the last few days, forcing thousands of people from their homes. … Forest ecologists and climate scientists say this is the new normal—what the fire historian Stephen Pyne has called the ’pyrocene’—and recent research has solidly linked it to human activity. A study last year found that human-caused climate change had nearly doubled the amount of forest burned in the West since 1984.”

For the nation generally, the outlook is not promising.

“The climate change that we have already committed is going to cost us trillions of dollars—at least 1 percent of GDP every year until we take it back out of the atmosphere,” Rising said on a statement on his website. “That is equivalent to three times Trump’s proposed cuts across all of the federal programs he cuts. If we do not act quickly, that number will rise to 3-10 percent by the end of the century. That includes the cost of deaths from climate change, lost labor productivity, increased energy demands, costal property damage. The list of sectors it does not include—because the science still needs to be done—is much greater: migration, water availability, ecosystems, and the continued potential for catastrophic climate tipping points.”

Meanwhile, at Red Rocks in Colorado this week, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order committing that state to the Paris climate agreement.

“We will realize our commitment with colleagues in the West to build electric vehicle stations along major highway corridors throughout our state. Along with Utah and Nevada, we will utilize the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust to reduce range anxiety within the electric vehicle market. You’ll be able to drive an electric car from Colorado to the Pacific and Denver to Moffat County without fear.”

Donald Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris agreement and has sharply cut his budget recommendations for the agencies leading the anti-climate change effort—the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.