Sunday, August 28, 2016

Will Low-Income Folks Be Hit Harder By Global Warming in the Pacific Northwest?

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
--Mark Twain

There is an assertion often thrown around by a number of local environmental and climate advocacy groups:

Global warming in our region will degrade the lives of low-income folks more than those with greater economic resources.

For example, the Seattle-based Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy has made this point on their website:
I go to a lot of regional climate policy gatherings and this claim has been accepted wisdom by many environmental activists, with nodding approval when stated.   And this assumption is driving all kinds of actions, like inspiring some activists to oppose the carbon-tax initiative (I-732) because it doesn't provide enough support for low-incoming and minority folks.

This blog asks the question directly:  Is it really true that global warming's effects in the Northwest will hit poor individuals more than others?  

My analysis suggests that there is no basis for this assumption and that it serves as a" convenient truth" for those with agendas beyond the environment.

The Big One:  Roadway Icing

Let us begin by asking what is the number one weather phenomenon that kills and injures Washington State residents and particularly poorer ones.  Is it windstorms, floods, smoke from wildfires, or thunderstorms?

No, it is clear that it is ice on roadways (a.k.a black ice), something I have blogged about many times in the past (and I have had a project with WSDOT to deal with it).  I have testified in many legal cases on this topic, and a large number of those injured have been low-income folks, who are particularly vulnerable.  Many of them ride long-distances to jobs in all kinds of weather and they often have cars without the latest safety features.   Less well off folks often have longer commutes because they can't afford expensive homes near the central cities.

A warming climate associated with increasing greenhouse gases will reduce snowfall over the Pacific Northwest, with increasing temperatures substantially reducing the frequency of "black ice" on roadways.

Conclusion:   warming temperatures reduce ice on the roadways, which will preferentially aid low income folks for the most dangerous meteorological threat facing them.

River Flooding

One of the key threats to our region from global warming associated with increasing greenhouse gases is heavier precipitation and flooding.  My colleagues and I have done a lot of research on this topic using global and regional models, and the conclusions are emphatic: by the end of the century extreme precipitation will be enhanced, and coupled with less snowpack, flooding--particularly in the fall-- will be enhanced.  Homes along rivers will experience increasing flooding.

I would suggest that there is no reason to expect that poor folks live preferentially along rivers.  In fact, the opposite is probably true:  water and river view is a premium experience, with land along rivers costing a premium.  If you want proof of this, check any real-estate site like Zillow.   If anything, flooding will preferentially affect richer folks.

For $700,000 you could purchase this waterside home near North Bend, one that
 is threatened by increases in precipitation under global warming.  I wouldn't.

Conclusion:  Thousands of waterfront homes in our region are threatened by global warming, but there is no reason to believe that poorer folks are preferentially threatened.  The opposite is probably the case.

And the same is true for rich farmland (such as the Snoqualmie Valley) that will experience more flooding.

Landslides and slope failures

Heavier precipitation under global warming will increase the frequency and intensity of slope failures in our region.  Particularly vulnerable homes are at the tops or mid-slopes of the inclines extending from Puget Sound.   These prime view locations are preferentially owned by wealthy folks, such as the famed Perkin's Lane in Seattle, which has experienced repeated slope failures during heavy rain events.

Conclusion:  Landslides and slope failures, a major potential impact of global warming, will preferentially harm rich and well-to-do folks.

Rising Sea Level

As the earth warms, regional sea level will rise, with the exception of portions of the northwest Olympics Peninsula that are still rebounding from the loss of ice after the last ice age.  Estimates range from 1-2 feet by the the end of this century.   Those living along the water will be particularly vulnerable.    As can be easily determined by using a real-estate web site (like Zillow) or a map of incomes around our region (see below), folks along the water tend to be considerably richer than those living inland.

Conclusion:  the impacts of sea-level rise will preferentially hit wealthier folks.


It has been suggested that increasing temperatures under global warming will increase the threat of wildfires.   This suggestion is based on the assumption that we won't deal with the real issues (like the mismanagement of the forests and letting folks live in forests that have frequently burned for millennia).        But lets accept that the number of wildfires will increase.  Will poor folks be preferentially harmed by these increased wildfires?

As someone who has spent a lot of time exploring the eastern slopes of the Cascades, I have noted that many of the houses in the most vulnerable locations are vacation homes and residences of relatively well-to-do retirees.  Check out the real-estate site and you will not believe the expensive homes being built in the most vulnerable locations (see image below).

 Poorer folks generally don't live in these vulnerable forest mansions.

There is a lot of agriculture along the eastern slopes, and some orchards or vineyards could be vulnerable to increased fires as the region warms.  These agricultural properties (and fruit processing facilities) are preferentially owned by relatively well to do farmers and investors.  On the other hand, after a vineyard is burned, there might less jobs for agricultural workers initially.  But perhaps more work later restoring the land (e.g. replanting).

What about wildfire smoke and health impacts?   Would lower-income or minority folks suffer more?

There is no reason to expect this.  Wildfire smoke spreads rapidly, influencing large numbers of people and many towns/cities (such as the smoke the hit both Spokane and Seattle last year).  All will suffer.

Conclusion:  Increases in wildfires will affect wealthier individuals as much or more than lower income folks in terms of loss of property.  Health effects from smoke will influence all groups.

Heat Waves

Finally, let us consider heat waves, which will surely increase due to global warming.   Richer folks will have more access to air conditioning and thus will more opportunity to escape unpleasant warmth.  An important question is whether lower-income folks will have more heat-related health issues and morbidity than their richer neighbors?

Although there may be some class-related effects here, I suspect they will be minor due to the meteorology of our region.   Unlike the eastern U.S, Northwest heat waves are accompanied by relative low humidities.  The reason, strangely enough is the cool Pacific Ocean (which ensures dew points are low) and desert-like conditions of the interior west.     As a result, sweating is very effective here, compared to high-humidity region east of the Rockies.   Furthermore, the dry air allows effective cooling at night on both sides of the Cascades.  So it might be 90-100F during the day, but temperatures drop to the 50s or 60s at night.  A plot of the temperatures at Pasco for the past four weeks illustrates this.
With effective skin evaporation and cooling at night, heat exhaustion and deaths are rare in our region, even with very hot weather.  And folks in western Washington can get relief from heat by heading to the water, which is always cool here (I notice that many flock to Puget Sound and Lake Washington beaches during hot periods).  

To prove the above, here is a plot of heat-stress hospitalizations for Washington State (per million people).  The highest was in 2009 during our historic heat wave (when many all-time records were observed).   During that year the rate was annual heat exhaustion rate hit 15 per million (so about 100 in the State for entire year).

Heat-related deaths were far less.  Roughly 7 in the 2009.  Perhaps of that 7, there was some preference for low-income folks, with the elderly being the most vulnerable.    But not a major source of mortality in our region and our low summer humidities will continue under global warming.

Conclusion:   Heat waves should increase and one can expect some increase in heat exhaustion/heat deaths.  But this is a very small threat to the population of our region due to our meteorology and proximity to water.

Agricultural Impacts and Jobs

Eastern WA agriculture should be enhanced by global warming.  Unlike California, there should be plenty of water in our future, particularly if additional reservoirs are built (Northwest rainfall will be modestly greater with global warming).   Already California firms are buying up agricultural land and the number of acres in vineyards has risen substantially.

As CA become warmer and drier, there will be a huge potential for agricultural expansion in eastern Washington from those picking fruit and those working in the packing and shipping industries.  Thus, employment and wages should grow substantially.  Since agricultural workers are predominant low income and minority folks, they can look forward to improve economic opportunities as a result of global warming.

Homeless Individuals

Cold waves and hyperthermia are potent threats to even young homeless people as documented extensively.   By the end of the century, winter temperatures will be substantially higher than today (5-8F) and thus the threat of hyperthermia should be substantially lessened.   Warmer temperatures during the summer will be unpleasant but generally not life threatening for those living outside.  There is no expectation of more extreme storms in our area.

Substantially warmer temperatures and a sharp drop in the frequency of lowland snow brought be global warming will be of considerable benefit to homeless folks living outside.

Health Benefits of Less Wood Smoke

In poorer rural communities there is substantial dependence on burning wood for heat. Such wood smoke is an acute health risk, contributing to asthmatic symptoms, lung cancer, and heart disease.  With substantial warming by the end of the century, heating requirements will be reduced, thus lessening the need to burn wood.  Richer households tend to use natural gas or electricity for heating, and thus enjoy less exposure to noxious wood smoke.

Conclusion:  Warming will result in less wood smoke, which should have preferential benefits for poorer communities. 

Grand Conclusion

Considering all the expected changes in the Northwest climate that will occur under global warming (and some will be large), there is NO reason to expect that global warming will have more overall negative impact on low-income or minority individuals.  In fact, one could easily make the opposite case:  that warming will preferentially degrade the lives of richer folks.

Thus, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, Seattle's Climate Solutions, some Democratic activists, and other "progressive" groups that are making this claim (that poor folks will experience great impacts) are doing so without any real evidence of its validity.    

Using this false assumption, they are opposing important advances in saving our planet and the environment, such as the I-732 revenue-neutral carbon tax initiative.   It appears that their social agendas (increasing government budgets for interventions to aid low-income groups) are more important than their commitment to the environment.    Aiding our less advantaged citizens is important, but that is a separate issue.  But groups like the Alliance are willing to sacrifice critical environmental progress and any hope of bipartisan environmental action for their political goals.

Regarding I-732, the opposition of some groups is particularly surprising, consider that this initiative would reduce the sales tax by 1%, a boon to low-income folks in a state with a highly-regressive tax structure, as well as a tax rebate for working families that would neutralize their extra fuel costs.  It is time for them to reevaluate their positions and lend support to measures such as I-732 that will encourage a move to a less carbon-intensive economy.

The key point:  ALL of us in the Northwest are going to be affected by global warming, and all of us must work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare our society to adapt.   Those trying to divide us (like the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy) are greatly undermining progress.


This blog is only talking about the effects of global warming in our region. My point is that in the Northwest the effects of global warming do not preferentially hit poor people or minorities. We are all in this together.  Since I-732 ONLY deals with Washington State, only effects in our region are relevant.  Even those wanting to create a non revenue-neutral carbon tax, would only spend the money in WA (they are not going tax Washingtonians and give the money to the underprivileged in California). 

Of course, global warming will preferentially affect poor folks outside of our region (e.g., the Sahel) one is arguing about that.  But that is not relevant to a Washington State carbon tax.

Announcement: Climate Surprise Talk

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at UW's Kane Hall on Climate Surprise: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. This will be a new talk, based on the latest research, that will describe some regional "climate surprises" that may well occur in our region during the next century. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


Houseboat guy said...

While I understand and agree to some point with what you are saying, you're missing one big point. Part of the equation of "impact" should be the ability to recover from said impact. Poor people have a much much harder time recovering from somthing like a flood, fire or health related problems hot weather. While the wealthy might be disproportionately effected by climate change, the ability to recover from it is heavily in their favor.

Cliff Mass said...

Houseboat guy,
I am not sure about your point. Recovery from what impact? Richer folks are living in the most vulnerable areas and thus they will have greater impacts...cliff

RH46 said...

Maybe it's true that in the Pacific Northwest, poor people won't be disproportionately affected by global warming, but in the world as a whole, they will be. Poor people relying on subsistence agriculture in the warmer and drier parts of the world will be subject to reduced crop yields as the climates they live in get even warmer and drier, and according to this report, food prices will rise in Sub-Saharan Africa by something like 10-40%, and in South Asia by 10-25%, over the next 65 years. Any rise in agricultural prices will hit the poorest people the hardest. It's not fair to only think of our immediate region, our emissions impact everyone.

John Marshall said...


Your analysis sounds reasonable to me for areas close or inside Metro Seattle, where property values are strongly affected by water access or view. At least as far as the impact being disproportionately on the well-off. It does seem to refute some of the claims of progressive activists.

But when you get out on the Olympic Peninsula, you find disproportionately MORE lower-income houses in the bottom land near the river. Given the rivers out here are wild, there are fewer constraints on flooding, so it could get ugly for them.

On the other side of that coin, the general culture of the Peninsula from Port Angeles west is lower income (but not lower quality living -- self-sufficiency is highly valued on the west end of the peninsula). This may be true of other areas as well that are outside the Metro or the "vacation home" regions of the Cascades. Expensive homes won't be much of an issue out here. So any impact will be on lower-income by default.

The interesting part is that, whether we are talking earthquake or a warming/wetter climate, is that the folks with goats and chickens and who heat with ever abundant wood and aren't much put out by losing power (common enough already) will probably do fine unless they are right at the edge of a river.

Probably the most important thing is the impact of climate change on the logging industry, which drives most of the jobs. Most of our logs seem to go to Asia these days, and are mostly used for building forms for the massive amount of Chinese concrete construction. If logging is reduced, then that will very disproportionately affect lower income workers.

I don't know how (or if) global warming plays into the current logging business scenario.

Amanda said...

Houseboat guy is absolutely right. If a rich person loses their home, they can buy a new one. If it gets hot, a rich person can tool around on their boat and sleep in their air conditioned house. A rich person losing their vacation home in Wenatchee is going to be better off than a lower income person that LIVES in Wenatchee and has lost their one and only home. A richer person can pay for higher water prices when those inevitably increase, whereas that might be the rate increase that causes the lower income person to become homeless.

But really, the main problem with your "analysis" is that your definition of "lower income people" assumes they can afford a car AND a house. WOW. That's not lower income. That's actually doing extremely well in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country.

Low income people do not own property in Puget Sound. Middle class people can barely own property in Puget Sound. So your Zillow analyses are invalid: We're not talking about home owners, we're talking about people living in shared housing, people living in shelters, in their cars, under bridges and in basement apartments. Flooding is not going to go well for these people. Heat waves are going to kill hundreds in high floor apartments who can't afford air conditioning.

Tons of low income people live in apartment complexes right in the flood zones of rivers or up on slopes. And don't forget density: 100s of people live in one "Riverview Apartment Complex", vs maybe 5 people in one upper class house with the same footprint. Do we cry for those 5 with a million dollars in the bank or for the 200 who are now living on the street?

Unknown said...

What is missing in this analysis is the fact that wealthy people with resources will simply pay to move out of harm's way, and with more property flooding, on fire or sliding, those who don't have resources will be priced out of living where they do now. It's silly to think the rich will just stay put and suffer the impacts of global warming while the poor benefit.

Unknown said...

Not sure you considered costs. As climate change affects growing seasons and areas, it seems likely that food costs will go up, maybe not permanently but probably until growers and ranchers fully adjust. Yes, we all eat food but the cost of food is a far greater percentage of income for poor families than for wealthy families.

There's also the chance that there will be greater military conflict over resources. This seems speculative to me but I don't think it so unlikely that it ought to be dismissed. This is significant for the poor because a greater percentage of military enlistments (especially re-enlistments) are from poorer parts of our society.

So, in terms of how many dollars will be at risk, wealthy people will be hot harder. When you own more, you have more potentially at risk. But, if you look at the percentage of income or percentage of accumulated wealth that could be at risk, poorer communities stand to be hit harder.

These aren't factors unique to the MW. In fact, you might have a point that there NW will have less impacts on the poor than other parts of the US or works. But, I definitely disagree that you've proven that the lives of the wealthy will be more "degraded" than the lives of the poor. (Unless your point is just that the poor have less to lose - it's an easier fall if you're at the bottom - but I didn't take that a your point.)

Houseboat guy said...

My point is that it's not a black and white issue. It's not like everyone living in the forest is rich, in fact I would argue your point about that. The map you show is basically the wealthiest area in the whole state and doesn't take into account the large number of people living in rural forested areas around the state. The majority of which I would bet are in the poor category. I grew up in a rural community in the coast range of Oregon and the majority in the area are poor. It's very similar to much of rural western Washington. They are at high risk for being burned out if the fire danger increases. Also, there are a lot of people living in flood planes all over the state that are poor. The whole town I went to school in (Mapleton) floods regularly and is far from a wealthy town. Much of the the Washington coast range , Olympic, and Cascade river lowlands are subject to flooding and are with large poor populations.
As I said, it's not just if your impacted but how easy it is for you to recover. If your talking your second home burning in the Okanogan or waterfront homes in Puget Sound then I would guess people have a better chance of recovering as they come from a better position from a wealth standpoint. For example logging families living in rural Washington do not have deep pockets and would be hit far harder by the loss of everything.

 "Poorer folks generally don't live in these vulnerable forest mansions"

You are correct. But I would guess there are 10 single wides on a forested acre lot for every mansion in rural Washington, even (if not more) on the east side. I think your demographic assumptions are way off. Eastern Washington is way more than the Methow Valley and Leavenworth areas and western king county is not a good example for extrapolating the rest of the states demographics . Everything west of the sound apart from a few towns here and there is essentially poor. Everything in rural eastern Washington outside of a few enclaves is poor. A handful of mansions doesn't make an entire area some how rich. Even your map of the central sound begins to show that with in Kitsap Peninsula.

My original point was not arguing that wealthy people won't get hit hard or even disproportionately, just that your leaving out of the equation how hard it is to recover from getting hit. That equation should have as part of it something the likelihood a family outside Forks that lives paycheck to paycheck and looses everything to forest fire having a similar standard of living after 3 years. Vs. a family who's second home just outside Leavenworth burns..... Who do you think will fair better in three years? Who is harder hit by associated climate change?

surlyben said...

Suppose Alice makes $100000 a year and manages to save $10000 for emergencies, while Bob makes $20000 and saves $2000. A climate change expense that costs Alice $9000 and Bob $3000 will hit Bob harder than it will hit Alice. Even if the cost is disproportionate to their incomes (say Bob at $3000 and Alice at $30000) Alice is likely to be able to do better, because she is far more likely than Bob to have the ability to reduce her expenses, have better credit, and have assets she can borrow against or sell.

Also, I notice you don't address the impact of global warming on food prices. If farms start failing in places which aren't the Pacific Northwest, that will have an effect on prices in the Pacific Northwest. In my opinion that will disproportionately affect lower income people.

John Bower said...

Two points:

1) While I love your blog, Cliff, sometimes you are seriously blinded by your own posts. What houseboat is saying is true - even if, on average, wealthier people are more affected by climate change in this region, his point that when lower income people are affected they will have a harder time dealing with the financial impacts. Surely, you are not arguing that lower income people won't be affected at all. It makes sense, the, that when poor people are impacted, they will be more vulnerable to the financial burdens of the impacts than when wealthy people are impacted. Pretty straight forward argument that is hard to argue against, I would say. Your objection to Houseboat's argument is based on average effects vs. the differing abilities to deal with impacts when they occur.

2) I actually appreciate your analysis here, and like you, I am fact-based thinker. However, I do think you should at least mention in your blog that while the difference in how the wealthy and the poor may not be great in this region, globally, and even in the US, this is the exception to the rule: lower income people throughout the world will suffer much greater impacts of climate change than the wealthy. In Western Washington , it is only the relative wealth of the region and the fact that climate change impacts will be smaller than in other regions that lessens the impacts on the poor. In other regions of the world, and even other regions of this country, sea level rise, increased flooding and storm intensity, increased heat, and other effects of climate change will be (already are?) devastating for poor people.

mike said...

Have you considered the "secondary" effects?
For example, dealing with climate related changes affecting public infrastructure (e.g., rising sea level impact to seawalls, etc) will require funding, and thus likely tax increases.
WA has one of the most regressive tax systems about, and that in itself adversely impacts poorer folk via the sales tax.
Time to adjust our taxation policy!

Josh S. said...

But when lower-income people are affected by climate change, they will have more difficulty paying for insurance and health care.

Steve said...


I recognize the hypothetical presumptions of warming and the heat waves, flooding, wildfires, sea rise and less ice you're considering but when will we see some conclusive indications that any of this is in fact beginning to occur?

Lainey Piland said...

Houseboat guy, I was thinking the exact same thing while reading this. Who can more easily recover: a rich person losing their vacation home to wildfire, or a low-income person losing their primary residence to wildfire?

Also, when people make the point that low-income/poor people will be most affected by climate change, they're not speaking about people here in the Northwest. They're speaking mostly of the global poor - people who live subsistence lives or who live in developing countries, where it will be a challenge for them to grow food, obtain drinking water, or escape droughts/flooding/disease/(insert natural disaster here) caused by a changing climate.

Cliff Mass said...

Lainey Piland,
Since I 732 is about using funds within Washington State, the only thing relevant is the impacts of global warming in our state. Of course, in many areas of the globe poor folks will suffer due to global warming...cliff

Steve said...

Won't the greater pain for the poor come from the policies themselves and not any warming? And that climate activists are pitching to have the increased cost of energy offset for the poor with proceeds from any new carbon tax?

Robert E. Gardner said...

Mark Twain (1835-1910) usually gets the credit for tht quote, but Bartlett's attributes it to Josh Billings (1818-1885).

Bob Gardner

Jim Little said...

To reject I-732 because you want to correct economic inequality at the same time as putting a price on carbon is tragically flawed and politically naive. It assumes that you can satisfy all your liberal wishes in one fell swoop without bipartisan support. I will certainly support a carbon price put forth by the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. It's a shame some environmentalists are not supporting I-732.

Unknown said...

Unless we build a Trumpian wall around our state, I don't see how we can talk about GW impacts in isolation. The PNW is going to be a very attractive place for displaced folks from southern states. I expect property prices -- already high -- to skyrocket in the next fifty+ years. This will definitely hit the poor harder than the rich.

I support 1-732 nonetheless, as I think there are better ways to address the issues opponents are raising. But for any analysis of the future we need to consider the impacts of dramatically increasing population in "less warmed" areas.

- Douglas

Steve said...

Douglas said, "The PNW is going to be a very attractive place for displaced folks from southern states".

How do you know such a thing? Why would they be displaced from southern states?
Is the southern state climate changing?
When is the migration going to begin?

Unknown said...

I have only one problem with your analysis, and that is about who is affected by flooding. Often flat areas near rivers are the poorest part of town. The land there is cheap because it is prone to flooding, has no views, and tends to be humid and buggy. So increased flooding will hit the poor people in those areas harder.

Chris Mc said...

We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It's a death trap.
-Anthony Hopkins

My opinion.. everyone will be 'equally' effected by climate change. Those who adapt quickest will do best. 'Low income' welfare types will do whatever the governmental says to continue to collect. Working class will find work cleaning up the mess. Rich will continue to find oportunities to make $$. Politicians will write all sorts of laws and taxes that will do nothing but confuse the actual problems.. and stay super rich.

John Bower said...

Steve, if you were paying attention you'd know it is already true that people from the southern states are moving to the Pacific NW because of climate change. There have been many news reports about people from S. California moving north already, which the quickly rising housing prices in Bellingham (my hometown) reflect. Speaking more personally, I have met several people who moved recently to Bellingham who said the drought in California was a factor. One family came here for their kid's soccer tournament and couldn't believe our kids play on real grass - in San Diego they play games on artificial turf and practice on dirt (used to be grass). They spoke of about a dozen other ways the lack of water has decreased their standard of living. They decided to move here. I also have a family member who had a small horse farm in Texas who recently moved to Oregon because the long term drought in Texas made their farm untenable. It's already happening, and if the SW droughts continue, it will only intensify.

Bruce Kay said...

Much of the comments here show that framing the problem of AGW as a "Washington Problem" is highly erroneous. If Washington is getting climate migrants now, just imagine how we will be screaming for Donald Trump walls down the road, when boatloads of Middle East migrants start showing up on the west coast. The climate migrants who show up now are representative of the wealthy, demonstrating their capability for mobility when they chose, well resourced and financed. A much better indication of what is coming down the pipe is what happened the past year in Europe. There, those who were much more poorly resourced, mobile and capable, eventually fled under duress only at the point of a gun. They are the poor that will eventually be knocking on the door of Washington State.

Washington, like BC or any other fat cat society is entirely delusional if we think that because we are the the best resourced and least likely to experience direct impacts from climate change, we can rest on our laurels..... unless of course, we are morally comfortable with building Trump Walls. We know that some of us are, the real question we are avoiding is - underneath all our veneer of concern, perhaps we all are ? It will be interesting ( and entirely predictable) to see the reaction of todays well off climate migrants when that happens!

A carbon tax is not the cure, but it is at least effective in steering the boat in the right direction on numerous levels, not the least of which is institutionalizing a mindset that fully accepts the scientific facts, something that to date is woefully lacking. As well, the risks associated are incredibly low. If Washington cannot accept such low risk for such a demonstrable benefit ( look to BC for empirical evidence) then you really have to wonder about the priorities of such an allegedly enlightened and progressive society.

Eric Blair said...

"There have been many news reports about people from S. California moving north already, which the quickly rising housing prices in Bellingham (my hometown) reflect. Speaking more personally, I have met several people who moved recently to Bellingham who said the drought in California was a factor."

People who have to work for a living are moving from California because of one primary and overriding concern - cost of living and/or taxes. The opinion surveys from moving companies based in CA are quite clear on this factor, other relevant ones such as drought and congestion also being mentioned. While it's true that OR and WA are no picnic when it comes to overall CA rates, WA is still miles ahead of CA because homeowners cash in on their equity and buy huge homes with the proceeds.

BTW, the number one state that CA expats are fleeing to to is...Texas. Drought is not a concern for the hundreds of thousands of people who have moved there from all across the country, but jobs are. As always in these instances, follow the money.

CNY Roger said...

I agree with Steve: Won't the greater pain for the poor come from the policies themselves and not any warming? And that climate activists are pitching to have the increased cost of energy offset for the poor with proceeds from any new carbon tax?

The theory of a carbon tax is great but in practice you are trusting politicians to not glom on to those funds for their own purposes. The record in NY indicates that should be a concern for you. Twice so far the Reginal Greenhouse Gas Initiatives funds which were supposed to be dedicated to carbon mitigation programs has been raided for general programs and the extraordinarily high administrative costs suggest that once bureaucrats get near the money you should worry.

The bigger concern for the poor should be the impact of rising energy prices. You put in a carbon tax and assume that the cost of mitigated carbon energy will be cheaper than your existing energy. Be aware that the cost of renewable energy has impacted the poor in Europe negatively. For example in August 2015, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research released a paper “estimating that the energy transition costs consumers €28 billion annually, or €270 for the average household per year”. (Lang, M. and A. Lang. August 25, 2015. “IW/Handelsblatt: Energy Transition Costs EUR 28 Billion per Year—Shutdown of 57 Power Plants.” Germany Energy Blog. Accessed 8.26.2015 referenced in Are you sure that the money allocated for the poor will offset those kinds of costs? What about those just above the “poor” threshold? The bigger concern for the poor should be that this will be a regressive tax on them.

Finally, just how much of a change to the global warming impacts do you expect from the program? I doubt that it is enough to make a measurable difference in any impacts. Kind of hard to get a return on that investment.

John Marshall said...

Reducing regressive taxation is always a good thing, and I-732 accomplishes that while at least making some difference in the economics of pollution. Ethically, those who pollute more should pay more for mitigation.

Just as obviously many, many steps like this will be required. But they have to be tackled one at a time.

This is a good step.

Andrew Lincicome said...

Is it not important that the average global temperature has not actually increased at all looking just at the past twenty years of data? Why is that so Cliff?? What will the average temperature look like next year without any el nino influence to bolster global temps? What impact will the extremely weak solar cycle 24 have on the overall global temperature??

Cliff Mass said...

Andrew..... the question is not what has happened during the last decade or so, but what will happen during the next century. Temperatures can stagnate for a decade or two due to natural variability, but human forcing will dominate over time. Much stronger impacts than variations in solar output...cliff

Rebecca Timson said...

This is not an effective argument in support of I-732. The flaws in this argument speak to the need for better communication and collaboration among climate scientists, economists, structural engineers, agricultural and urban planners, medical researchers and practitioners, etc.

About flooding: Thousands of low-income Washington families live in flood-prone bottom land, even on the west side of the Cascades, and often in housing ill-prepared to withstand flood damage (eg housing without secure foundations). Flood insurance is prohibitively expensive for some people, and it's going up in areas with increased risk. And flood costs aren't all about housing. For example: Roads may be impassable, which disproportionately affects those who have to travel long distances to work.

About slope failures: This doesn't just affect pricey view property. It affects those who live below such slopes, and it affects infrastructure including roads and power lines etc.

About wildfires: Remember those low-income people who will supposedly benefit from working in the new vinyards? Many live where wildfires have raged in recent years, areas which will be at higher risk in the future even with better forest management (since the increase in wildfires is certainly not restricted to forest land). So do low-income people in towns like Peshastin, Ephrata, Orondo, Cle Elum etc--certainly not the exclusive havens of those living in "forest mansions", though there are some of those in the mix. And don't overlook the health impacts of smoke inhalation, quite a serious concern in some areas of eastern Washington during the past four years. We are still a long way from providing equal access for all to health care,so hospital admissions may not be an accurate source of data. Some of the most vulnerable communities don't even have hospitals.

As for data on heat-related illnesses, let's not just count the dead. Let's think about the disproportionate impact on people who don't have AC when it's 110 degrees in Wenatchee, and people who have to work outdoors (in the vinyards!) in that kind of heat. Think about days of work (and school) lost due to wildlife- and heat-related health problems. Surely this has a disproportionate impact on low-income families.

As noted by others, there are other (actual and potential) impacts which would disproportionately affect those with less disposable income and less mobility. It makes little sense to restrict the focus to topics like who owns waterfront property.

Jon Kahrs said...


You are wrong. Below is a link to NASA statistics which clearly show warming over the last 20 years: Pay close attention to the rolling 5 year average as it smooths the climate signal.

Also, El Nino and the solar cycle comes and goes, and yes, next year could be cooler- but the trend is clear. All these effects are studied in physics based models based on physical laws and carefully evaluated data. For example, you could take two parcels of air with different levels of CO2- and if you had the right instruments you could measure the differences in heat retention due to the Greenhouse effect. Some prominent variables which add complexity are the continents, oceans and ice. Even these can be modeled, albeit they do add some uncertainty and we don't fully understand all the feedback loops.

In conclusion, you could find all of this information on the internet and save Cliff the trouble of responding to your garbage.

Cliff Mass said...

Rebecca Timson,
Of course, some low-income folks will be affected but my point is that there is no reason to believe that they are MORE affected than wealthier people. Most of your arguments are not strong. Slope failures clearly effect richer folks more. Richer folks lives on shorelines. One can demonstrate this with facts. Warmer weather is better for homeless folks. Wood smoke for heating is a bigger threat to low-income folks than the occasional wildfire (whose smoke spreads widely). The bottom line is that the arguments by those opposing I 732 are quite weak...cliff

Organic Farmer said...

Bravo Cliff. I am in 100% agreement with your analysis. Yes, I am a low income full time vegtable Farmer on the Olympic Peninsula. Dry hot summers, add substantially to my income, growing sweet warm weather crops people buy.

I think all the naysayers, should only eat radishes, since they don't like warm weather crops. Lol

For those of us that have spent our entire lives living in northern tier states. I can not imagine anyone, not wanting to able to ripen a good Tomatoe before fall!

From a low income Farmer's perspective. Cliff is right on with his analysis.

Remember... Extinction events create opportunities too. Without one, mammals would have never had a leg up in the evolutionary race. Yes?

So..Learn to like calamari we will have plentiful squid in our seas.

Rebecca Timson said...

Cliff, my points are just examples of ways to expand the discussion. You are measuring impact in a different way than some others here. If, as others have suggested, impact is measured in terms of capacity for remediation of circumstances, then facts indicate that those with less resources will be more affected than those with the money to rebuild, move, and/or pay for whatever will help them cope. As you've noted, already rich Californians are buying up a lot of farmland in this state. Among the resources of the rich, we must include a disproportionately favorable tax structure and use of communal tax and insurance funds to protect their assets (eg to stabilize the slopes where bluff-top houses are built).

I am not in the anti-I 732 camp. But there's a lot more to impact than who loses a waterfront or bluff-top home or how liveable it is to be homeless.

Amanda said...

Your "facts" are Zillow housing estimates which only account for homeowners. You're pitting the Rich against the Slightly Less Rich homeowners that live further inland. There are MORE lower income people in apartments (100s per building) on slopes, shorelines, and riparian zones than there are rich people (5 per building).

Also, I was just remembered that warming temperatures would increase photochemical smog. Not great for those inner city children and those living around SeaTac.

Traveller said...

Your analysis comes off as exceedingly cherry-picked.

Do you realize that if Bill Gates loses one of his many vacation mansions, insurance will cover it and he has other places to travel in the meantime? That's very different from the lady working at Taco Bell don't you agree?

You assume that everybody living in the woods or in areas of fire danger is rich. This is just daft.

What do you suppose will happen to food prices when farms around the world grapple with climate change?

Mark said...

When the wealthy lose property to climate change, it will be tax write-off. When middle and lower income families lose property they will continue to pay the mortgage on an empty lot.

A couple years ago, the Midwest had a severe drought. The corn crop failed, cattle herds were thinned and food prices spiked especially cereals, milk and meat. At the same time, most Republican politicians were working extra hard to reduce or eliminate SNAP and called climate change a hoax.

Is climate change real? There are two hurricanes approaching the Big Island of Hawaii from the east (Madeline and Lester). El Nino and the Blob were both declared dead yet the waters east of Hawaii remain warm.

David Chuljian said...

Meteorology has some of the worst ill-conditioned differential equations of any discipline. Economics initial conditions are almost as bad, and the equations themselves are ill-defined and aggressively nonlinear. Making economic predictions for the effects of global warming is therefore fraught with difficulty, and there's no way anybody believes anybody else's predictions. I think Cliff's point was that accepting "GW will hit the poor worst" is not based on evidence, but I'm sure his arguments will convince nobody, and I don't know if they're realistic or not--we'll find out in 20 years. There are only two reliable economic laws that I know of: (1) Them what has, gets; (2) Ain't no free lunch. (Milton Friedman, not Twain.) Rich people may be more affected, but if they're rich enough they'll compensate.

Alex said...

Wow, the sheer amount of doomer hand-wringing is breath-taking in this thread. Also when did it become fashionable to hate on people of means? I see that our society in 2016 celebrates dehumanizing rhetoric aimed at non-poor people.

Also there is no evidence that any particular flood, hurricane, tornado or heat-wave is AGW-related. None whatsoever. Pure bunk.

Foo said...

As I understand this, I-732 offers one absolutely factual benefit for those with lower incomes: It reduces the impact of a regressive sales tax system.

It should be pretty easy to calculate expected increases in energy costs and compare to expected decreases in the sales tax. That won't stop people from yelling about it, but at least it will make it clear that they're more signal than noise.

Big picture, I'm mystified at the apparently iron-clad belief in some quarters that shooting down I-732 will clear the way for a "better deal" for the underprivileged. Here's what a defeat will actually clear the way for: nothing. There's no politically viable path to the alternatives proposed from the left and no realistic prospects that will change.

This all-or-nothing gambit is completely and utterly divorced from political reality - something akin to holding one's breath in order to get one's way. It's going to be weird watching so many people turn blue.

Bruce Kay said...

Alex..... I think you are getting a bit over excited there. No one is expressing any "hate", only pointing out the fairly typical low risk variables that comes with wealth, while lack of it increases risk.

Of course a little social engineering could fix that. How about a nice fat Obama "climate -care" plan for the end of the century? Thats how it should go ya know. A little Carbon tax now to soften the fat cats up, then hose them good when you finally smarten up and elect Bernie Sanders next time around!

Amanda said...

Wait, if poor people drive more (I'm skeptical that's true, but let's pretend Cliff is right), then they'll be paying MORE carbon tax than rich people. How is that not just as much of a regressive tax as the sales tax?

Cliff Mass said...

Amanda...that is why low-income working folks get a tax credit to ensure they are not penalized. And, low-income folks spend a greater proportion of their income on sales tax, thus the drop of sales tax is very positive for them. This is really a very wise and clever package. I hope you support it...cliff

Keith Watts said...

Great article. I support i732. Very articulate points based on data and logic. I recently listened to presentations made to the Seattle Times editorial board on TV the other day. Yoram Bauman answered every question about I732 with facts and data and made compelling logic based arguments. The climate justice representative didn't make a strong case in my opinion. They wanted to postpone taking action and kept making references to needing buy in from communities of color. They want us to wait for the perfect bill/initiative to arrive while stating there is climate urgency.

Doug said...

Forgive me for not knowing all the policy details, but I don't believe this statement: "Slope failures clearly effect richer folks more." Rich people are not going to live in areas prone to landslides without good insurance policies. With the first sign of trouble they will relocate. The federal government will be much more likely to bail them out from a catastrophic loss. In short, when rich people can incur tremendous losses without actually feeling any pain. The pain they might have felt is transferred to the less fortunate. If Seattle ends up a winner in the climate lottery, more rich people will move here and kick the poor people out. You are choosing to ignore the wider picture.