Monday, August 21, 2017

Predicting The Impact Of Climate Change On Inequality

Hello Everyone:

Today we move on from what to do about Confederate-era statues to climate change and economic inequality.  Specifically, how will climate change affect economic inequality in the United States?  We have already felt the impact of global warming with increasingly hot summers and more intense hurricane seasons.  There is no denying that fact.  The question of its affect on economic inequality is something that Robinson Meyer considers in his CityLab article "Climate Change Will Intensify Inequality in the U.S."  Mr. Meyer writes, "Climate change will aggravate economic inequality in the United States, essentially transferring wealth from poor counties in the Southeast and the Midwest to well-off communities in the Northeast and the coasts,..."  This not just his opinion but the conclusion reached by a very detailed economic analysis of this phenomenon.

The analysis, Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States, published in the June 30, 2017 issue of Science magazine (; date accessed Aug. 21, 2017), replicates the costs of climate change in exacting detail, "...modeling every day of weather in every U.S. county during the 21st century."  The analysis revealed great disparities in how rising temperatures will impact American communities: "Texas, Florida, and the Deep South will bleed income in the broiling heat, while some chillier northern states gain moderate benefits."

Solomon Hsiang, one of the co-authors and a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, told Mr. Meyer:

We are really sure the South is going to get hammered...The South is really, really negatively affected by climate change, much more so than the North.  That wasn't something we were expecting going in.

In general, the analysis found that "climate will cost the United States 1.2 percent of its GDP for every additional degree Celsius of warming," however that figure is somewhat doubtful.  Hypothetically, if global temperatures rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100-which is where the terms of Paris Accords place the planet-American Gross Domestic Product (GDP) "could shrink anywhere between 1.6 and 5.6 percent."  

However, beyond the initial findings, the analysis signifies "a major breakthrough for the field of climate economics."  Previously, the best financial predictions of climate change estimated  the damage for a country as a whole.  This new analysis  takes a bottom-up approach, creating "a model out of dozens microeconomic studies into how climate change is already affecting regional economies across the United States."  Each algorithm in the model emerged from early empirical relationships founded on real-world information.

In an email, Gernot Wagner a Harvard University and former lead senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote:

This is like the adults entering the room.  Economists have for a quarter century, insisted that more work needs to be done to estimate climate damages.  This team has done so,..."

Mr. Wagner is not connected to the analysis.

Be that as it may, the emphasis on the empirical means "that the research omitted many serious risks of climate change-even those the researchers considered important-if the data describing them was too paltry."  The estimates exclude "non-market goods" such as the "loss of biodiversity or natural splendor."  In essence: while most people agree that dead penguins and polar bears have economic costs, but there is not agreed upon strategy how to approximate it.

Robinson Meyer also points out, "The study also doesn't account for the increased likelihood of 'tail risks'-that is, unlikely events with catastrophic consequences.  Many researchers believe that global warming will make social strife, mass migration, or global military calamity more likely, but those events are, by definition, hard to predict."  This also applies to economic disaster, the result of "the onset of a 'mega-drought or the rapid collapse of the Greenland ice sheet." (; Oct. 11, 2016; date accessed Aug. 22, 2017)

Solomon Hsiang added,

When we had the Dust Bowl, we saw everyone clear out of the Midwest and flood the labor markets in the urban centers on the coast.

Robinson Meyer notes that "Nothing like this kind of internal migration is modeled in the Science study."

In general, the assessments in the analysis should be viewed as the absolute rigorous attempt to illustrate what the cost of global warming will for the United States in a "normal" world.  Presidencies come and go but the U.S. has successfully retained a well-organized economy in the face of ever shifting political communities since the end of World War II.

Regardless, even in the most harmonious environment, the United States will bear the cost of climate change.  A map detailing the cost of climate change for every U.S. county 2080-2099-can be viewed at; June 30, 2017-underlines this point.  The southern part of the country, especially the states lining the Gulf of Mexico, the cost of climate change would be the equivalent of a "20-percent tax on county-level income, according to the study."  Harvest will diminish, summer energy use costs will soar, rising sea levels will eliminate real-estate developments, and heatwaves will cause cardo and pulmonary disease epidemics.

If this is not enough to convince you of the costs of climate change, there is more.  The loss of human life trumps lol economic costs of climate change.  Mr. Meyer reports, "Almost every county between El Paso, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, could see their mortality rate rise by more than 20 people out of every 100,000."  Compare this to the fact that auto accidents killed about 11 out of 100,000 Americans in 2015.

A side-by-side map of how climate change will affect agriculture and health by 2080-can be viewed at; June 30, 2017.  At the same time, the analysis revealed that some regions may gain moderate economic benefits from climate change.  "New England, the Pacific Northwest, and the Great Lake states may all proposer as growing seasons lengthen and the number of frigid, deadly winter days decrease."  The best case scenario is that some counties could experience a 10 percent income increase by mid-century.

This may sound a wee bit strange to some Americans.  The high cost of climate change will be born in places where people presently appear to be the least concerned about it.

Joseph Majkut, the director of climate policy at the libertarian think tank Niskanen Center, wrote in an email,

Most of the risk maps show that climate change is going to be terrible for Trump country.  Like, it's not clear at all-rom these maps-why reducing climate change is not more urgent issues for Republicans, purely as a matter of representing their people.

Mr. Majkut is not connected to the analysis.

Solomon Hsiang elaborate the disparity as a result of the hot places getting hotter.  He said:

If you're in a hot location already, then increasing the temperature tends to be much more damaging than if you're somewhere that is cooler.  Moving from 70 to 75 [degrees Fahrenheit] is not as big deal as going from 90 to 95...The South, today, is already very hot.  So as the country warms up, the South is disproportionately bearing the burden.

The only component of climate change that does not specifically affect the South is the projected increase in property crime.  Interestingly, the number of non-violent property crime does not increased during the summer, but decreases in the cooler autumn days.  Mr. Hsiang, 

It's hard to burgle houses or steal cars when there's a lot of snow on the ground.

On that note, check out Geoff Manaugh's A Burglar's Guide to the City for a good description of how burglars use the weather to get away with their misdeeds.

As the snow climate states' swingers get less icy, the region will experience an increase in property crime rates.  However, the sizzling hot summer days in the South will not alter the region's crime rates. Mr. Hsiang adds, "This is, however, a very small factor."

Solomon Hsiang also cautioned that "the paper's economic projections end in 2099.  If climate change continues unabated into the 22nd century, the North will likely eventually 'flip over' into much higher temperatures and more severe economic damages..."

Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States is the first fruit of the Climate Impact Lab, a 25-person collective of economists and policy experts led by researchers from the University of California Berkely, University of Chicago, Rutgers University, and the Rhodium Group. (  The analysis is the first part of their global assessment of the economic costs of man-made climate change.

Solomon Hsiang told Robinson Meyer,

What has happened over the last 10 years is there's been a revolution in our ability to measure the relationship between the climate and economy, partly out of new, real-world data...This paper somewhat came out of the realization that all that new research wasn't going anywhere.  It wasn't informing how we think about climate and the economy because those older models weren't built in a way to absorb new findings.

The new program developed by the researchers is SEAGLAS.  The goal of the program is " integrate research into the regional and local effects of policy into a larger, holistic view of a certain country or part of the world."  Although the analysis is focused on American county-level information about crime, human health, agriculture, labor supply, and energy demand, the researchers plan to incorporate new sectors and information sources into it in the future.

Joseph Majkut said,

It's a great development, and the future of climate economics,...This new study puts us on much more satisfying empirical ground as we consider the relationships between climate change and economic output.  For that alone it should be praised.

Robinson Meyer obese revs, "He did question one of the assumptions underlying the project: whether previously observed relationship will continue to hold in a future world."  Mr. Majkut continues,

If the high rates of human mortality can be eliminated or reduces with adaptation (more air conditioning, sports gels, better medicine, or people moving out of the South) then the economic picture really changes the costs of climate will be reduced dramatically.

For this reason, Mr. Majkut continues,

the research has a long way to go before it approaches anything like a comprehensive estimate of climate risk.  Meanwhile, we emit.

Gernot Wagner wrote in an email,

SEAGLAS provides a terrific framework to build upon...We've always known that there are enormous regional disparities across the globe.  The fact that damages vary so much within a rich country like the U.S. is striking.

We can conclude, "if climate modeling remains imperfect, what's the point of doing it?"  The point is, over the past 25 years researchers have been trying to predict the economic damage of climate change.  The eventual goal is arriving at a social cost of carbon-i.e. "the damage to the economy dealt by every additional ton of carbon dioxide-which would inform the creation of a carbon tax."  The irony is that harden political opposition to a carbon tax has resulted in an increase in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Solomon Hsiang said that "precision is still important."

If we have a rough number, is that good enough?...I definitely think we're never going to know the cost of climate change to seven decimal places.  But it's unclear what a rough number means, because there been very little benchmarking to any real-world data

Robinson Meyer adds, "An additional paper in this edition of Science clarifies that, so far, SEAGLAS has produced social costs of carbon that fairly similar to two of the three most-famous economic models." (; date accessed Aug. 21, 2017)

Mr.Hsiang continued,

To be honest, transforming the global energy system is not a cheap task.  It's not a small thing..And in some places, a lot of the concerns about implementing policy are related to related to concerns about the reliability of the numbers being used.  It's a little like the doctor coming and saying you're sick and he has some medicine which might work.  You'll feel much more comfortable about the medicine if you know there been clinical research and systematic control trials demonstrating it works.

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