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Global Warming to Worsen Southern Poverty

A new, interdisciplinary effort analyzed vast amounts of climate and economic data to forecast certain regions of the United States will be hit harder than others by global warming. Economist and lead author Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley, told Living on Earth Host Steve Curwood the study estimates southern counties of the US, many of which are poor, could face a 20% decline in economic activity if carbon emissions continue unabated through the 21st century.


CURWOOD: Global warming is on track to devastate the US economy in years ahead if temperatures are allowed to rise unabated, this according to a study just published in the journal Science. Economists with the Climate Impact Lab project that the poorest third of counties in America would be most harmed, with incomes cut as much as 20 percent. The Lab is a consortium of experts from the Universities of California, Chicago, Rutgers, and the Rhodium Group, and this forecast used a wide variety of climate models and economic data.

Economist Solomon Hsiang was one of the lead researchers. He teaches public policy at UC Berkeley and joins us now. Welcome to Living on Earth.

HSIANG: Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: Now, which regions of the United States does your study predict will be hit hard in this climate disruption scenario?

HSIANG: That’s actually one of the most interesting and surprising findings of this study. What we found is that the southern United States, southern parts of the Midwest, and also the Atlantic coast are some of the most hardest hit parts of the country. There's a pretty good explanation for that once we did the analysis, and we understood was going on.

What happens is that the economic impact of warming is much worse if you are already pretty hot. So you can imagine going from 90 to 95 degrees is a much bigger deal going from 70 to 75 degrees. And so, because the southern parts the country are already so warm, a bit of warming does a lot more harm to them then to the northern parts of the country that tend to be cooler, and in some cases even places along the north can benefit. Places along the border with Canada are so cold that there actually, you know, they have people who are getting sick from it being so cold, and this is an important finding because the northern parts the country tend to be wealthier today, and the southern parts of the country tend to be poorer. So, by hurting the south more you're really hurting the poor population in the country relatively more, and this, we think, means inequality within the country could actually worsen.

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