7.1: Quantifying Climate Risks
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Besides increasing temperature, which poses its own set of risks, the main risks associated with climate change include rising sea levels; increased volatility of rainfall, which destabilizes food and water supplies; increasing incidence of the strongest hurricanes; and acidification of seawater, which poses significant threats to marine ecosystems and ultimately to populations of fish.
One important goal of climate science is to quantify the risks associated with climate change. This is a complex challenge, as most risks are ultimately local: the flood risks in Boston are not those of Miami, for example. Risks have to be quantified by sector as well as by location. In the private sector, risks to various enterprises have to be considered individually and, if desired, summed over the whole sector. In the public sphere, the effect of climate change on infrastructure, crime, and national security are just a few important considerations. Additionally, some risks, particularly existential risks such as that of nuclear war, are not easily or best described by numbers. The whole enterprise of risk assessment and quantification is far too large to be summarized in any meaningful way in this short primer. Perhaps the best summary of the field of climate risk quantification for the United States is provided in the recent book Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus. Here we provide a brief overview of some of the most important risks.