Environment Forum

Even everyday weather could pack a $485 billion punch

No question about it: this has been a wild weather year so far in the United States, with record rains, droughts, wildfires and tornadoes. But a new study indicates that even routine weather events like rainstorms and cooler-than-normal days could pack a huge annual economic wallop.

Weather’s effect on all sectors of the U.S. economy may total $485 billion a year, as much as 3.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to research published in the current Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It is the first study to apply qualitative economic analysis to estimate the U.S. economy’s weather sensitivity.

Mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with routine variations taking a toll of 14 percent on mining each year — possibly because of changing demands for oil, gas and coal — and farming feeling a 12 percent impact, conceivably because temperature and precipitation affect many crops, the study said.

Other weather-sensitive U.S. sectors include manufacturing (8 percent); finance, insurance and retail (8 percent), and utilities (7 percent). By contrast, wholesale and retail trade had a weather sensitivity of 2 percent, and the service sector felt a 3 percent impact from routine weather variations. The impacts stretch across every U.S. state, researchers found.

“It’s clear that our economy isn’t weatherproof,” said the study’s lead author, Jeffrey Lazo, an economist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.

The Green Gauge: Vedanta, Sterlite ordered to shut smelter

A bird flies by the Vedanta office building in Mumbai August 16, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

This month, Vedanta Resources and subsidiary Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. made headlines for posing a public health risk to the surrounding community in southern India with pollution from a large copper smelter. They share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies recently in the news for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Vedanta Resources, Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd.
Vedanta Resources faces a new environmental setback in India after a Madras High Court ordered the closure of a large copper smelter at Tuticorin belonging to Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite Industries. Claiming that “the right to have a living atmosphere congenial to human existence is part of the right to life,” the Madras court argued that toxic emissions from the copper smelter, the 9th largest in the world, posed a public health risk to the surrounding community. The Indian Supreme Court granted permission for the facility to continue to operate while Vedanta appeals the verdict.

What offshore miners know

CHINA OIL

Dr. Beverly A. Sauer is a professor of management communication at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Any views expressed here are her own.

Despite massive attention to environmental impact of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the death of 11 rig workers has not had the same impact as the tragic deaths of 29 coal miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

One article in The Washington Post described events at the moment of disaster, but there has been little tribute to the knowledge and experience these workers bring to the job of managing risk and preventing future disasters.

Peru clashes raise green issues

Clashes in the Amazon between indigenous protestors and Peru’s army that killed some 60 people last week throw some old issues into sharp new relief: development versus the environment and local versus foreign control of natural resources.

Indigenous tribes, worried they will lose control over natural resources, have protested since April seeking to force Peru’s Congress to repeal new laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in huge tracts of pristine rain forest.

In the developing world, extractive industries have a bad record of bringing benefits to local people. Prime examples include the oil-rich Niger Delta in Nigeria and mineral-rich South Africa under apartheid.

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