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Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist
This may sound a bit weird, but when I think about my adolescent years, I sometimes associate them with the faint smell of sewage.
You see, when I was in high school, my family lived on the South Shore of Long Island, where few homes had sewer connections. Most had septic tanks, and there always seemed to be an overflowing tank somewhere upwind.
Most of Nassau County eventually got sewered. But many American homes, especially in the Southeast, aren’t connected to sewer lines, and more and more septic tanks are overflowing, on a scale vastly greater than what I remember from my vaguely smelly hometown — which is both disgusting and a threat to public health.
The cause? Climate change. Along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts, The Washington Post reported last week, “sea levels have risen at least six inches since 2010.” This may not sound like much, but it leads to rising groundwater and elevated risks of overflowing tanks.
The emerging sewage crisis is only one of many disasters we can expect as the planet continues to warm, and nowhere near the top of the list. But it seems to me to offer an especially graphic illustration of two points. First, the damage from climate change is likely to be more severe than even pessimists have tended to believe. Second, mitigation and adjustment — which are going to be necessary, because we’d still be headed for major effects of climate change even if we took immediate action to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions — will probably be far more difficult, as a political matter, than it should be.
On the first point: Estimating the costs of climate change and, relatedly, the costs polluters impose every time they emit another ton of carbon dioxide requires fusing results from two disciplines. On one side, we need physical scientists to figure out how much greenhouse gas emissions will warm the planet, how this will change weather patterns and so on. On the other, we need economists to estimate how these physical changes will affect productivity, health care costs and more.
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