Think climate change only affects poor and developing countries? Think again.
Scientists are confident that the global climate is in for some serious changes over the next 100 years, and this can affect virtually every aspect of human life on Earth. According to a report from Fortune, climate change won’t just bog down people who live in more vulnerable countries. A recent study suggests that the whole world could wind up poorer as a result.
Numerous studies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent assessment report, have linked climate change to a number of devastating outcomes like civil war, famine, lack of clean water, and more extreme weather events like droughts and storms. And that’s just the beginning – other research warns that sea level rise caused by melting glaciers in the North and South poles poses a massive threat to coastal properties around the globe.
The recent study, carried out by researchers at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, was published in the journal Nature. It found that the Earth does indeed have a “goldilocks” temperature, an average level when the conditions are just right for the global GDP to grow at its maximum capacity. On average, the researchers found, this temperature was about 13 degrees Celsius, or 55 degrees Fahrenheit. As the average global temperature deviates from this level, economic growth slows down worldwide.
According to one of the study’s co-authors, Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at the department of earth system science at Stanford, “People have long been worried that the effects on people in poor countries would be really negative and we confirmed that. One of the main findings is that rich countries are not isolated. Climate change could reshape the global economy. Rich companies are part of the story and could be impacted in important ways.”
Using economic data for 166 countries across a 70-year period from 1960 to 2010, provided by the World Bank, the researchers compared economic growth with trends in global temperature. The peak productivity temperature was consistent across time and space, regardless of the basis of a certain country’s economy. It applied to both rich and poor countries, and a relationship between the changing global temperatures and GDP was established by comparing data across cooler and warmer than average years.
Some of the biggest economies in the world naturally have temperatures around 13 degrees Celsius, including the U.S., many European nations, Japan, and China. At this temperature, humans are able to produce an optimal amount of food and goods from the available resources, which fuels the economy as a whole.
As the average temperature in a country rises, their GDP growth inevitably falls. In a hypothetical United States year where the temperature was 4 degrees Celsius higher than average, one could expect the GDP growth to drop by a whole percent. While this would never happen over a one-year period, leading climate scientists warn that this is entirely possible if no effort is made to curb carbon emissions from their current levels.
There are a number of other factors that contribute to a loss of GDP growth in the face of a changing climate. Human health suffers, as heart attacks and the spread of infectious disease increase with warmer temperatures. Workers become less productive in the heat, and the potential for conflict is much higher.
What would happen if humans fail to do anything about climate change? The study’s authors calculated that the benefits of acting to mitigate the damage caused by climate change are huge, and though they did not calculate it, they are almost sure that the benefits would outweigh the costs.
The alternative, inaction, could be deadly.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists representing countries around the world, agrees that the socioeconomic impacts of climate change could be dire. Data from their most recent comprehensive studies can be found here.