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Inaction on Climate Change Could Cost Millennials $8.8 Trillion in Lifetime Income

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A new study has found that without action on climate change, the millennial generation as a whole will lose nearly $8.8 trillion in lifetime income dealing with the economic, health and environmental impacts of climate change. The study, “The Price Tag of Being Young: Climate Change and Millennials’ Economic Future,” was produced by NextGen Climate and Demos. We speak to Heather McGhee, president of Demos and Demos Action.

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AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to talk about climate change, a new study has found that without action on climate change, the millennial generation as a whole will lose nearly $8.8 trillion in lifetime income dealing with the economic, health and environmental impacts of climate change. The study was produced by NextGen Climate and Demos.

Joining us now is Heather McGhee, president of Demos and Demos Action.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

HEATHER McGHEE: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the economic effects of climate change.

HEATHER McGHEE: You know, in some ways, it’s somewhat stunning that this study hasn’t been done before, because we know that millennials—I’m sort of one of the older millennials—millennials, us and our children, are going to be the ones, obviously, to bear the brunt of the inaction to address global climate change. We also know that millennials are the first generation likely to be worse off economically than our parents. And so, at Demos and NextGen, we wanted to combine these two issues of the political decisions that have created economic inequality, that have really used the millennial generation as guinea pigs since the Reagan era of cutting back on public investments, of shredding the labor contract, and also combine the story of inequality with the story of climate change, not only in the environmental impacts, but in the economic impacts.

And so, we use the methodology from a Stanford and Berkeley study, which used 166 different countries’ historical data over the past 50 years and found the overall GDP impacts of rising temperatures. And for the first time, we looked at that at the household level and said, for just the generation of, you know, a college student that graduated last year, over her lifetime, she would lose $127,000 in lost income. And because we know that lost income isn’t just lost ability to spend today, it’s lost ability to save for tomorrow, we also wanted to look at the wealth impacts. And that was nearly $200,000 in lost wealth.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how that happens, concretely.

HEATHER McGHEE: Yeah, it happens because this Stanford and Berkeley study showed that rising temperatures—much like the Lancet study, Stanford and Berkeley researchers showed that rising temperatures create lost productivity. And there are, actually, you know, hundreds of different ways that this happens. And they didn’t—this was one of the first studies to actually just look at it from an aggregate level, just say that, you know, whether it’s in production, whether it’s in agriculture, construction, the loss because of extreme temperatures and weather events, all in all, over 166 countries, we can take a step back and say that when temperatures rise over a certain point, GDP falls. And we know that when GDP falls, wages fall, jobs fall. And, of course, that has been the threat economically to millennials that we haven’t ever calculated at a household level, although we’ve known it at a gut level, that there would be a price to pay for inaction today.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s very interesting, because the Republican Party, though there are individual Republican politicians in Congress who do believe that climate change is an issue, overall, are saying it is not an issue. Certainly, Donald Trump says it is a hoax. In fact, I want to go to Donald Trump talking about the issue of climate change earlier this year.

DONALD TRUMP: President Obama said the biggest threat to our country is global warming. That’s called give me a break. OK? The biggest threat to our country is nuclear. And we cannot let Iran get a nuclear weapon.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he has called climate change a hoax, saying, among other things, it’s a Chinese conspiracy. But this issue, you’re really talking about building up a debt. And debt certainly is a concern to Republicans.


AMY GOODMAN: This is a climate debt.

HEATHER McGHEE: That’s right. It’s a climate tax, which seems to be a concern to Republicans. It’s a wallop to our GDP. The Stanford and Berkeley study said that by 2100 our GDP would be 36 percent lower than it would be if we took action on climate change. Those are supposed to be concerns of conservatives. And you’re already seeing it in non-fossil fuel businesses, which are already starting to make this transition. They understand that there is a massive economic cost to inaction and, on the flip side, that there is a great economic opportunity by transitioning to 100 percent clean energy. We know that the millennial generation is 91 percent supportive of transitioning to 100 percent clean energy. The only things that’s going to make the difference between crisis and opportunity is more democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would that look like?

HEATHER McGHEE: That would look like, really, a World War II-style mobilization, both of our politics and of our economics, of all of us saying that there is actually a better way, that we can recreate our economy and put those communities that have been last in line in a fossil fuel economy first in line in a new clean energy economy.


HEATHER McGHEE: We can use technology that’s existing today. I mean, that’s one of the things that makes people feel like it’s all very hopeless, the idea that we have to, you know, land a man on Mars in order to have 100 percent clean energy. But through existing technologies, we can do it. We can do it building on the progress that the Obama administration has made with the Clean Power Plan from the EPA and Paris. And, of course, we need to get more aggressive than those compromised steps forward. In California, they’ve done something that makes sure that the money, the revenue, that comes from polluters is actually targeted to the lowest-wealth communities in creating jobs, public transit, efficiency. Efficiency of buildings is going to be a massive part of how we get to clean energy, and that saves working families on their energy bills, and it puts people to work in the buildings in their community.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Heather McGhee, we’re going to link to your report, NextGen/Demos report on climate change and millennials. But I’d like to ask you to stay with us, as we transition to the “alt-right.” What does that mean? We’re talking to Heather McGhee, the president of Demos and Demos Action. We’ll be back in a minute.

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