The United States of America will be facing severe economic damage as the effects of anthropogenic climate change continue intensifying over the coming decades. A new study published in the journal Science predicts that unmitigated climate change will damage the poorest-third of US counties to the tune of 20% of total income.
The regions that will be hit the hardest in the US over the coming years economically will be primarily in the South and in the lower Midwest. In other words, economic centers will be likely to move northwards, leaving the hotter, southern parts of the US impoverished as compared to the current situation.
It should be realized here, though, that the study predicts overall losses — potential economic gains in more northerly parts of the US will in no way make up for the losses in other parts of the country, according to the study. Widening economic inequality and economic restructuring are also predicted by the new study.
“Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” commented lead researcher Solomon Hsiang, the Chancellor’s Associate Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. “If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”
So, to be extra clear on the implications of the new work here — the near- and mid-term economic effects of anthropogenic climate change on the US will be profoundly negative. This is even when some of the most negative potential effects and feedback loops of climate change aren’t taken into consideration.
“In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit,” as explained by Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “Its exposure to sea-level rise — made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes — poses a major risk to its communities. Increasingly extreme heat will drive up violent crime, slow down workers, amp up air conditioning costs, and threaten people’s lives.”
The press release provides more: “The pioneering study may settle the debate over whether climate change will help or hurt the US economy, being the first to use state-of-the-art statistical methods and 116 climate projections developed by scientists around the world to price the impacts of climate change the way the insurance industry or an investor would, comparing risks and rewards. The team of economists and climate scientists computed the real-world costs and benefits: how agriculture, crime, health, energy demand, labor and coastal communities will be affected by higher temperatures, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying hurricanes. … If emissions growth is not slowed, then the resulting 6-10°F (3-5°C) of warming above 19th century levels projected for the last two decades of this century will have costs on par with the Great Recession — except they will not go away afterwards and damages for poor regions will be many times larger.”
Something else that should be realized when considering that statement is that large-scale warfare and/or social collapse would of course damage economic health in the US on a truly vast scale, but such a scenario isn’t part of the predictions discussed above.
To put that a different way, the rising problems of falling agricultural productivity and water scarcity that are now accompanying climate change, as well as a number of other important and impending resource shortages (mined phosphate in particular), may well lead directly to large-scale warfare and/or social breakdown that brings with it enormous economic problems. So, the situation may well end up being considerably worse than even the study findings discussed above indicate.
“The ‘hidden costs’ of carbon dioxide emissions are no longer hidden, since now we can see them clearly in the data,” commented Amir Jina, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of economics at the University of Chicago. “The emissions coming out of our cars and power plants are reshaping the American economy. Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.”
Overall, the new study predicts that for every degree Fahrenheit (~0.55° Celsius) increase in average global temperatures, the US economy loses around 0.7% of its Gross Domestic Product — with “each degree of warming costing more than the last.”
It should be realized of course that despite those findings, the situation on the ground will no doubt be uneven, messy, and irregular. It’s hard to say exactly when economic activity in different regions will be most affected and to what degree, but big changes are definitely coming … even in the most “optimistic” of predictions.
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