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The Economic Cost Of Climate Change

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

The warmer it gets, the less productive a country’s economy will likely be — those are the results of a new economic and science study published yesterday in Nature.

The study, conducted by researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley, examined fifty years of historical data to see if there was a relationship between temperature and economic performance. Looking at 166 countries — and taking out changes due to differences in countries (like geographic location or starting wealth) — the researchers analyzed whether a country’s economic performance increased or decreased as temperatures rose or fell.

They found that most countries have an economic sweet spot of 55°F — if a country tended to be cooler than 55°F, its economic performance tended to increase as it warmed towards 55°F. Once countries cross that threshold, however, their economic performance tended to decrease. The researchers found an especially strong negative correlation between a country’s economic performance and the temperature the warmer it gets — a country that begins with warmer temperatures, in other words, suffers a greater drop in economic performance per 1 degree of warming than a country that begins cooler.

“The data tell us that there are particular temperatures where we humans are really good at producing stuff,” Marshall Burke, professor of Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, said in a press release. “In countries that are normally quite cold — mostly wealthy northern countries — higher temperatures are associated with faster economic growth, but only to a point. After that point, growth declines rapidly.”

Perhaps more concerning, however, is what could happen in a world where climate change is allowed to continue unmitigated. Under that scenario, the researchers found, 77 percent of countries in the world would see a drop in per capita incomes relative to current levels, with global incomes falling 23 percent by 2100.

Change in GDP per capita by 2100 compared to a world without climate change.

Change in GDP per capita by 2100 compared to a world without climate change.

CREDIT: BURKE, HSIANG, & MIGUEL (NATURE, 2015)

And that decline in economic performance holds true for both rich and poor countries, something that runs counter to the idea that rich countries can simply pay for technology to adapt and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

“The data definitely don’t provide strong evidence that rich countries are immune from the effects of hot temperatures,” Solomon Hsiang, the Chancellor’s Associate Professor of Public Policy at… read more.

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