Can We Afford to Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change? Can We Afford Not To?

I’ve posted previously about the importance of extreme heat among the impacts of climate change.  Much of the popular literature focuses, rightly, on the public health impacts.  Without at all minimizing the public health impacts, I thought it worth noting that there is an increasing scientific literature on the impacts of extreme heat on economic productivity. 

Spoiler alert – the news isn’t good.

The Effects of Temperature on Labor Productivity provides a good high-level summary of some of the recent research.  Among the highlights (or lowlights):

  • Extreme heat does not only affect agricultural production; it decreases industrial production as well.
  • In one study, both agricultural and industrial output decreased by more then 2% with each degree Celsius increase in temperature
  • Extreme temperatures affect productivity in both rich and poor countries.

And while the underlying correlation holds true even in the absence of climate change, the magnitude of the impacts is increasing due to climate change.  Extreme Heat:  The Economic and Social Consequences for the United States notes that, under baseline conditions, the cost of heat-related productivity losses in the United States may be approximately $100 billion annually, but that, absent effective measures to mitigate the impact of climate change, those costs could be $200 billion by 2030 and $500 billion by 2050.

And that’s just the impact of heat-related productivity losses.  Factor in increases in health care costs and the impacts of hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise, and, as Senator Everett Dirksen may or may not have said, “pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

For those who still think we can’t afford to the cost of moving to a carbon-free economy, it’s becoming more and more apparent that we may not be able to afford not to do so.

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