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The Economic Impact of Climate Change within The National Parks

There will be an economic impacts of climate change in the National Parks and consequences

seen in new policies as a result. Existing estimations specify that climate change in the National

Parks will possible have a limited impact on the economic welfare of the parks and the visitor’s

well-being. In fact, the initial impacts of climate change in the National Parks may well be

positive. However, in the long run the negative impacts dominate and overtake the positive

ones. Negative impacts will be substantially greater in less funded, hotter regions, and lower-

lying parks. Although climate change may affect the growth rate of the National Parks economic

growth and may trap more parks in low funding situation, quantification of these impacts

remains difficult. The optimal carbon tax in parks within the near future is somewhere between

a few tens and a few hundreds of dollars per ton of carbon a visitor is emitting.
The impacts of climate change in the National Parks are many and diverse. Determining

whether these impacts are beneficial or detrimental, small or large, depends on the location,

and time need to be considered. Unfortunately, a reading of any literature on the impacts of

climate change weather in the parks or not is likely to leave an untrained reader confused. It is

very difficult to make sense of the many and different effects: glaciers melting, sea-levels rising,

heat stress increasing, cold stress decreasing, wild fires increasing, coral bleaching, shifting

migration pattern and animal ranges, disease spreading, species going extinct. Thus, it is

needed to assess indicators to evaluate whether climate change is, on balance, a good thing or

a terrible thing for the parks and whether the climate threat is small or large economic problem

for the Park Service. Focusing in on two indicators will demonstrate the problem more clearly;

first the impact of climate change on the economic welfare of the National Parks and the

distribution of those impacts across the Parks.

The impacts of climate change on the economic welfare of the National Parks are

numerous. There are currently 419 units of the National Park Service, that all hold a stake in

total economic impact of climate change. There are countless theories published about the

overall effects of climate change on the economy, though not as much is out there about these

impacts on the National Parks. Also, these estimates of the financial impacts of climate change have

no foundation in true economic theory. Considering that no estimation is perfect, especially when

focusing on the National Parks specifically. The best way to get accurate results is with transparency and

simplicity, generalizing in the far future. Clearly estimations are a thin foundation for drawing definitive

conclusions about the economic welfare and impacts of climate change in the National Parks. Moreover,

the estimations for increased warming indicate that most researchers disagree on the sign of the clear
impacts, were some estimations are positive impacts and most others are negative impacts. Thus, it is

unclear whether climate change will lead to financial gain or loss in the National Parks. At the same

time, however, despite the variety of methods used to estimate welfare impacts, most agree on the

order of scale, with the economic changes caused by climate change being equivalent across the board.

These estimations suggest that climate change is about as bad for financial stability as other

unsustainable economic growth. This all suggests that the economic impacts of early warming trends

are positive on total financial stability, though the continued warming will lead to financial instability

and unmaintainable damages to the National Park economic welfare. These impacts cannot be thought

about in a liner fashion, one must consider the entire system and how these impacts affect all

stakeholders throughout the system. The initially positive effects do not consider the continued

greenhouse gas emissions that are negatively impacting the environment and ecosystems within the

National Parks. The total impacts to the environment are negative even with the early effects to the

economic welfare being positive. Thus the initial take-home benefits of climate change in the National

Park are ruined benefits, meaning that the economy will see these financial gain no matter what

happens to our emissions or the harm done to the environment.

The uncertainty about these estimations of the impact of climate change on economic

welfare in the National Parks is rather significant. It is important to note, however, that the

uncertainty indicated that, negative surprises are more likely than positive surprises of similar

scope. This is true for both greenhouse gases emissions and the climate itself. For example, it is

easier to imagine a world that burns a large portion of coal than a world that rapidly switches to

wind and solar power. Feedback loops that are accelerate climate change are likely to be stronger

than feedbacks that reduce warming. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change are typically

found to be more than linear. That is, if climate change doubles, its impacts more than double (see

figure 1). Many researchers have painted dismal scenarios of climate change (Myers 1993; Chalko
2001; Stern et al. 2006; Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics 2012;

Oppenheimer et al. 2014). However, no one has credibly suggested that climate change will make us

all blissfully happy. In light of these uncertainties and asymmetries, the earlier conclusion that a

century of climate change is about as good/bad for welfare as a year of economic growth needs to

be rephrased: A century of climate change is likely to be no worse than losing a decade of economic

growth.