As the human cost of climate change rises, not much happens. Will the economic impact spur us into action? — The … – The South Dakota Standard

Welcome to the launch of The South Dakota Standard! Tom Lawrence and I will bring you thoughts and ideas concerning issues pertinent to the health and well-being of our political culture. Feel free to let us know what you are thinking.
I wasn’t planning on a visit to Spain. But if I had been, I might have changed my mind after reading a recent article about Madrid. Last year they were suffering from extreme heat. During the summer of 2023, they saw three “heat waves” with temperatures often exceeding 104 degrees. One happened in April, before summer even began.
Those temperatures can be deadly. Our ability to cool our bodies at 95 degrees begins to decline. We can experience cramps, exhaustion, heatstroke, perhaps over time, even death.
During the summer of 2022, extreme heat killed some 60,000 people in Europe. Who knew? That certainly wasn’t on my radar.
But then, it’s not just Madrid! A lot of folks live in cities like Madrid. 200 million live in some 350 cities that see summer temperatures reach 95 degrees and above, right now. With global warming, the expectation is it will be 970 cities with a population of 1.6 billion people experiencing such temperatures by 2050.
Also, who knew that heavy rains this spring have killed many and impacted close to a million people in East Africa, displacing thousands in Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, and Tanzania. This flooding is the worst in decades.
If you want to know what’s happening to these people on the other side of the world, you can find out. There are videos even! Just be prepared for scenes of devastation and human misery. Don’t expect to hear about it on our nightly news.
Who knew that severe flooding in Afghanistan, this month of May, killed 300 people and destroyed thousands of homes in villages across the country. The flash floods followed an extreme drought in a country with 80% of the population dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. 
I wasn’t aware, but according to the First Street Foundation, some 3 million people in the U.S. have moved due to the rising risk of flooding. The foundation report focuses on what they call “climate abandonment areas.” This number will surely rise in the coming years, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates more than a billion people world-wide will be facing coastal climate hazards in the coming decades. 
Although there are still the deniers, we live in a warming world. The evidence is all around us! The science is clear! From bleaching coral in our oceans to ferocious firestorms in our forests (as perhaps studied by scientists measuring changes in glaciers at Glacier National Park, seen above in a public domain photo posted on wikimedia commons ) changes in glaciers, significant challenges are before us. As we continue to ignore the climate reality, displaced and uprooted people will continue to struggle toward what they believe are safe havens, and immigration woes in wealthy countries will worsen.
But we need a word about the “deniers.” Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida just signed legislation “restoring sanity,” by erasing ideas and mention of climate change from Florida laws. He rejected windmills off the Florida Coast, eased restrictions on pipelines, reduced emissions requirements, and rejected what he called the agenda of “green zealots.”
This is happening as the heat index at Key West, Fla., reached 115 degrees this May, a record for any time of year; and as 90% of Florida residents accept that climate change is happening.
Former President Trump offered an administration indebted to the oil companies, if they would simply put up $1 billion to help fund his campaign. Since climate change is a “hoax,” these carbon producers would receive tax breaks and supportive legislation should they approve his “deal.”
Here’s the rub! Increasingly climate change is not just an issue of the culture wars or partisan politics; it’s an economic issue! For instance, home insurance in Florida is 37% above the national average. Think hurricane season, of course, which seems to get longer each passing year.
And with each new “natural disaster” in this country — fire, flood, tornado, blizzard, derecho or hurricane — my insurance, and yours, rises. My homeowner’s insurance rose dramatically last year and I’m anticipating this next bill with trepidation.
I’ve just received several pages of policy revisions, especially with respect to roof repair. Are people losing their roofs?  
Heat waves can also be a drag on an economy, especially impacting industries like construction and others that rely on manual labor. As temperatures rise with climate change, some estimates are that we will see as much as a 20% reduction in output costing the global economy as much as $2.5 trillion a year by 2030. 
Perhaps the economic cost of climate change will become so large and burdensome the deniers will have to come to their senses. Sometimes the evidence from science, a love of nature, care for the next generation, a basic sense of morality, or a belief that the Creation is God-given and to be respected and valued, is not enough. Maybe a failing economy is the only hope for healing the climate!
Carl Kline of Brookings is a United Church of Christ clergyman and adjunct faculty member at the Mt. Marty College campus in Watertown. He is a founder and on the planning committee of the Brookings Interfaith Council, co-founder of Nonviolent Alternatives, a small not-for-profit that, for 15 years, provided intercultural experiences with Lakota/Dakota people in the Northern Plains and brought conflict resolution and peer mediation programs to schools around the region. He was one of the early participants in the development of Peace Brigades International. Kline can be reached at This column originally appeared in the Brookings Register.

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