A climate-change study at Sandia National Laboratories that models the near-term effects of declining rainfall in each of the 48 US continental states makes clear the economic toll that could occur unless an appropriate amount of initial investment - a kind of upfront insurance payment - is made to forestall much larger economic problems down the road.
Why tie climate change to economics?
''Absent any idea of costs, the need to address climate change seems remote and has a diluted sense of urgency,'' study lead George Backus said.
The Sandia study uses probability techniques familiar to insurance companies. Tables place dollar estimates on the effects of climate change in the absence of mitigation or other policy initiatives over the 2010-2050 time period.
The analysis is based upon results delivered by a variety of computational models reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report. From those, the Sandia report estimates the range of precipitation conditions - from lows to highs - that could occur across the states. The study then presents the consequence of those levels of precipitation on the states' economies.
''On the one hand, there's a lot of uncertainty in quantifying climate change,'' said Backus. ''Everyone sees that. It's this uncertainty that presents the greatest difficulty for policy makers. If society knew how change would exactly unfold, we could undertake adaptation and mitigation responses.''