Climate change is already costing cities. It’s going to get much worse

By: - July 22, 2022 4:00 am

Human-caused climate change is accelerating – and Ohio’s cities and towns are going to have to pay big money to cope with it, a new report says. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ohio’s cash-strapped cities and towns are going to need to find billions more a year to keep pace as challenges from climate change intensify over the coming decades, according to a new analysis.

Climate denialists have long ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. That got a little harder last year when the International Panel on Climate Change last year analyzed 14,000 studies and concluded that human activity is causing global warming and that we’re locked in to seeing it worsen over the next 30 years.

And the warming has taken on a more visceral cast over the past week, with 100 million Americans under heat warnings, Central England smashing heat records after 250 years of record keeping, and as much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere sizzles as well.

Of course, hot summers aren’t the only consequence of climate change. Increasing mean global temperatures have a lot of knock-on effects and cities — including those in Ohio — are having to deal with them.

“Communities across Ohio have been coping with increasing temperatures, flooding, erosion, and climate-related extreme weather events for years,” the report by the Ohio Environmental Council, Power a Clean Future Ohio, and Scioto Analysis that was issued Wednesday said. 

It added “These climate damages are projected to only intensify in approaching decades, generating new costs associated with climate-driven disaster recovery and adaptation, as well as creating a major strain on already overstretched taxpayers and cash-strapped local governments. Unless we see drastic changes at every level of government to address carbon emissions in the next few years, these impacts will only continue to worsen — and the cost to address them will skyrocket.”

The report looked at the available literature on climate-related phenomena such as more-intense precipitation, worse algal blooms, and more and hotter days. Then it applied them to Ohio cities to estimate what adapting to the phenomena will cost annually by 2050.

The estimate: at least $1.8 billion to $5.9 billion per year in 2021 dollars.

“This represents a 26% to 82% increase of current spending levels for environment and housing programs for local governments in Ohio over a 2019 baseline, for just 10 of the 50 climate impacts identified in Ohio,” the report said. “Policymakers should know that these costs will not instantly appear in mid-century, but in most cases will start to accumulate this decade and steadily increase until they reach the projected midcentury estimates.”

Some of the increased expenses with which Ohio communities will have to contend if global temps rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2100:

More air conditioners in schools, operating more cooling centers and paying for more electricity — Currently, the typical school district installs air conditioning when there are at least 32 school days when temperatures exceed 80 degrees F. By 2025, school districts across the state are expected to have 36 to 46 such school days per year, the report said, and the number will continue to increase from there.

By 2050, installing air conditioners where they’re needed in urban, poor districts in cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, Dayton and Toledo is expected to cost between $41 million and $200 million, the report said. 

In addition to those costs, local governments will be called upon to open cooling centers for people without air conditioning more often and they’ll have to pay more for electricity to keep those and other government buildings cool. Wednesday’s report estimates that will result in tens of millions more in annual expenses for local governments.

Road repair — Extreme heat, rapid freeze-and-thaw cycles and more intense storms all damage roads. The report estimates that such additional maintenance will cost $170 million to $1 billion a year. 

And that’s extra damage to roads that are already in bad shape.

“In 2021, Ohio’s roads received a ‘D’ rating from the American Society for Civil Engineers,” Wednesday’s report said. “The scorecard also notes that 17% of Ohio’s roads are in poor condition and the average Ohio motorist pays an extra $500 per-year in costs due to driving on damaged roads.”

According to the report, local governments are expected to need to spend more than $3.2 billion annually by 2030 just in order to catch up on deferred maintenance projects and begin to address future maintenance needs.

Protecting drinking water — Algal blooms introduce toxins into important Ohio sources of drinking water, particularly Lake Erie. Global warming exacerbates such blooms in at least two ways: It causes more intense storms that wash more fertilizer into the water, which, because it’s warmer, promotes more algae growth.

Lakefront cities such as Toledo, Sandusky, Lorain and Cleveland will have to pay $580 million to $2.2 billion more a year by 2050 to protect their water supplies, the report said.

Stormwater management — As anyone who’s lived through severe flooding can attest, it can cause huge amounts of damage, disruption and threaten people’s lives and health. The report estimates that Ohio municipalities will have to lay out an additional $140 million to $150 million per year by 2050 to upgrade their systems to deal with more, and more-intense, storms brought about by climate change.

The analysis lays out many other areas where costs are expected to increase — and it raises the question of who should pay them.

“Instead of relying on taxpayers to bear these costs, policymakers could consider alternative funding sources, such as holding accountable the corporations most responsible for causing and exacerbating climate change, and ensuring they pay their fair share of the costs of adaptation and resilience, just as many Ohio communities have held opioid manufacturers accountable for the costs of the opioid crisis,” it said.



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.