Climate Crisis

Climate Crisis Will Deepen Disparities and Inequities

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Electricity demand rises 5.3 percent for each degree rise in temperature. (istock)

In the first two stories of this series, it was explained that rising temperatures will cause severe economic damage across Rhode Island and in diverse economic sectors throughout the rest of this century. The social and economic costs of the climate crisis are no longer hidden, as this 2017 report documents.

Rising temperatures will magnify the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and storms, drive up violent crime, reduce working hours, dramatically raise air conditioning costs, and negatively impact people’s health and livelihood.

The negative impact will run to several hundred dollars per person per year.

However, the situation will be much worse in the southern United States and particularly around the Gulf of Mexico, where the economic damage could reach 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). That is the level of destruction that occurred in the Great Depression.

But, unlike previous recessions, climate-driven economic damage will be permanent. The combination of sea-level rise and stronger and more frequent storms will result in the disappearance of entire coastal communities.

States in the South and Lower Midwest, which tend to be poorer and hotter, will suffer the most. Colder and richer counties along the northern border and in the Rockies could benefit somewhat as health, agriculture, and energy costs are projected to improve slightly in those areas.

One of the most disturbing predictions is that the poorest communities will suffer the most economic damage from the climate crisis.

RI climate crisis economic damages chart
The economic damage Rhode Islanders are projected to suffer from the climate crisis. (Roger Warburton/ecoRI News)

The poorest third of U.S. counties will experience damages between minus 2 percent and minus 20 percent of county income. In the richest third of counties, average damages could range from a benefit of plus 1 percent to a loss of minus 7 percent.

The differences are even more extreme for the richest and poorest counties. Damages in the poorest 1 percent of counties will be minus 6 percent to minus 28 percent, while damages in the richest 1 percent of counties could range from a benefit of plus 1 percent to a loss of minus 4 percent.

The cost, extent, and diversity of economic damages from climate changes are staggering, according to reams of research, including a 2019 U.S. House Committee on the Budget report. Here is a brief look at what is projected:

Massive increases in damages from coastal storms and flooding. Coastal economic damage is driven by the amplification of hurricanes, increase in rainfall, and higher tides because of sea-level rise. While extreme weather events are short-lived, their economic impact is long-lasting.

Decline in crop yields. Agricultural yields for maize, wheat, soybeans, and cotton all decline with rising temperatures. For each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature the overall decline in yield is 9 percent to 12 percent.

Rising mortality rates. Rising mortality in hot locations more than offsets reductions in cool regions. Annual U.S. mortality rates will rise by 17,000 deaths for each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature.

Rising electricity demand. Electricity demand rises 5.3 percent for each degree rise in temperature. Rising demand from hot days more than offsets falling demand on cool days.

Lost working hours. Total hours of labor declines 0.5 percent for every 1 degree Celsius for high-risk workers, who represent about 23 percent of all employed workers, in sectors such as construction, mining, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Increase in the crime rate. Violent crime rates increase 1 percent for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature. In addition, property crime increases because there are fewer cold days, which suppress property crime rates.

In fact, for each 0.55 degree Celsius increase (1 degree Fahrenheit) in temperature, the U.S. economy loses about 0.7 percent of GDP. Each subsequent 0.55 degree rise in temperature results in even more economic damage than the previous increase.

Rhode Island has already experienced more than a 2 degree Fahrenheit rise since 1900. Without substantial action, climate change will have a considerable negative impact on the Rhode Island economy.

Editor’s note: Part 3 of a three-part series about the economic consequences of the climate crisis on Rhode Island. Part 1. Part 2.

Roger Warburton, Ph.D., is a Newport, R.I., resident. He can be reached at rdh.warburton@gmail.com.

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