It’s a fine irony that the US states with the largest number of Trump supporters and climate change deniers, the people who stand up and cheer when the Philanderer in Chief announces the US will pull out of the Paris climate accords, will be the hardest hit by the effects of climate change. That’s according to a study published in the journal Science on June 30.
First County By County Analysis Of Climate Change
In a county by county statistical analysis conducted by UC Berkeley public policy professor Solomon Hsiang and his colleagues at the Climate Impact Lab, places that are already hot, like Arizona and Texas, are at more risk from rising temperatures than the Northeast and West Coast states.
“The reason for that is fairly well understood,” Hsiang writes. “A rise in temperatures is a lot more damaging if you’re living in a place that’s already hot. You see a similar pattern internationally, where countries in the tropics are more heavily impacted by climate change, but this is the first study to show that same pattern of inequality in the United States.”
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More Deaths, Lower Economic Output
What does it all mean? According to the study, it means big financial losses and higher death rates in those states. Heat-related deaths could equal deaths from automobile accidents by the end of this century and economic losses could be as much as 20% of GDP for the states most affected, according to the report.
In the abstract of the report, Hsiang says, “The combined value of market and nonmarket damage across analyzed sectors — agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy, human mortality, and labor — increases quadratically in global mean temperature, costing roughly 1.2% of gross domestic product per +1°C on average.
“Importantly, risk is distributed unequally across locations, generating a large transfer of value northward and westward that increases economic inequality. By the late 21st century, the poorest third of counties are projected to experience damages between 2 and 20% of county income (90% chance) under business-as-usual emissions.”
We’re All Going To Die Anyway
Approximately 40,000 people died in automobile accidents in the US in 2016. One factor the study does not take into account is that autonomous driving systems are expected to slash highway fatalities by up to 90% in the near future. 40,000 deaths may not seem like a big enough reason to worry about the effects of climate change for some people.
After all, Fox News talking head Lisa Kennedy Montgomery said last week that removing 22,000,000 Americans from eligibility for health care is no big deal because, “We’re all going to die anyway.” That statement is indicative of how far America has come as a society that values wealthy white males of Western European extraction and corporations more than it does the rest of its citizens.
But even Trumpies understand money. When local economies start getting decimated by the economic costs of climate change, then the scales will fall from the eyes of the climate deniers as they start screaming for government — the same institution they vilified for decades — to “do something.” But of course, by then, it will be too late. Karma, like gravity, is a harsh mistress.
Computer Models Are Not Infallible
Such computer models may turn out to be inaccurate but the statistical analysis that resulted in this report represents all the latest advances in information technology. “Past models had only looked at the United States as a single region,” said Robert E. Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers and a lead author of the study. “They missed this entire story of how climate change would create this large transfer of wealth between states.”
The latest research also cannot take into account how changes in migration patterns within the US may alter the outcome. Social realignments are happening already. An article in The Guardian today tracks how two people came to opposite conclusions about where they chose to live.
Cultural Changes Drive Migration
One man has abandoned California and its ultra-expensive lifestyle to live more frugally in Houston. He also finds Texas’ robust gun policies and determination to discriminate against various members of society based on ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation more to his liking.
Another man has grown weary of the right-wing influence sweeping across the Lone Star State and has relocated to California, where liberal politics and abundant opportunities in the tech world are just what he is looking for.
America may not actually split in two as Trumpism continues to roil US society, but if people are willing to relocate because of ideological differences, they will certainly opt to do so if they perceive climate-related threats are affecting their well being.
There are other imponderables that computer models find it hard to assess. Society may yet develop unforeseen strategies for coping with climate change. Farmers in Montana may start growing cotton. Texas could become an important source of bananas. The benefits to coastal areas in the Northeast and along the West Coast may be less than anticipated because they are limited by rising sea levels and the advent of more powerful storms.
As more people move away from disadvantaged areas, they may put pressure on cooler coastal areas that may not be equipped to cope with the influx of new citizens. Then there is the whole unanswered question of how climate change may drive a rise in international migration patterns.
Think Globally, Act Locally
The report suggest that local and regional strategies will be vital to coping with the impact of climate change. Cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are just two of many that are moving aggressively to slash their carbon emissions and boost the amount of renewable energy available to their residents.
“That’s the hope, that this research can help prevent many of these outcomes,” said Trevor Houser, a co-author of the paper who helps direct the Climate Impact Lab. “If cities take action to prevent heat wave deaths by building cooling centers, then costs would be lower than we project. But I wouldn’t see that as a failure of prediction — that’s a policy success.”
Source: New York Times | Graphic credit: Climate Impact Lab