A new county-by-county climate-change study, which predicts which parts of the United States can expect to see the worst economic effects of rising temperatures, was not released in response to President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.
But it might as well have been.
Published last week in the journal Science and authored by climate scientists and economists from the University of Chicago and the University of California, among others, the study projects economic losses by 2080 and through the close of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue "business as usual," and if regional economic and population trends continue at current rates. The study looks at everything from coastal impact to rising temperatures' effects on labor productivity and agriculture — including here in Harris County.
Amir Jina, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago, said the projections were made in spite of the Paris Climate Accord, and so Trump's decision to pull out, angering leaders across the world, did not disrupt the research. Still, Jina said, the findings make a strong case for why commitment to reducing emissions should remain at the top of the rest of the world's to-do list — with or without the United States.
"There’s this assumption that the U.S. economy, being one of the largest in the world, is not going to experience as much damage as other places are, that the economy doesn’t depend as much on things that are vulnerable to temperature changes," Jina said. "But what our results are showing is that’s not actually the case. So in light of this paper, our reaction to the U.S. saying we don’t need to mitigate the effects of climate change — it’s not going to affect us — that's the wrong logic. What we're seeing is that there will be quite large damages, even in the U.S., if we stay on our current path."
Jina said the researchers, who all also work for the Climate Impact Lab, were unsurprised to find that Southern states like Texas were more affected by climate change than northern states, where climate change may even bring benefits — but added that they were slightly surprised by just how starkly the damages differ.
In Harris County, for example, local GDP is expected to shrink by about 6 percent between 2080 and 2100. With an average increase in temperature of about four degrees, here's what the new study projects will happen:
Agricultural production is expected to decrease by a whopping 70 percent in the region, because crops will be unable to survive the heat; the mortality rate is projected to increase by 25 people per 100,000; a greater dependence on appliances such as air conditioning is expected to increase energy expenditures by 14 percent; coastal storms alone are expected to bite an additional 0.5 percent chunk of GDP from the county's economy; and high-risk labor, including oil rig jobs, agricultural jobs or factory jobs where heat could be a problem, should expect to see a decrease in productivity of 2.3 percent.
"Houston, in a way, is a perfect storm of impact," Jina said, "where we have temperature change and precipitation change forcing these negative changes in economic outcomes. It’s already really hot, so it’s close to that threshold where temperatures start to damage people’s health. In order to cope with that, we project a big increase in energy expenditures. And it’s also along that coastal strip of Texas where it’s warming to such a degree where crops are getting more difficult to produce, and then there’s labor losses, and of course there’s the exposure to sea level rise and increased intensity of hurricanes or storm surges."
Jina said that various industries' ability to adapt to the heat with technology or business strategy can largely influence how climate change affects their workers, products and bottom lines.
But that will remain to be seen — and, Jina said, continue to be studied.
See the maps below to explore the extent to which climate change is expected to affect various areas of the country (in green are places that may actually benefit), and go here for an interactive map to explore temperature change over the course of the century.
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