Thursday, January 12, 2017

More Heat to Start 2017

When John Mandyck and I wrote Food Foolish in 2015, we focused first on hunger and then on its relationship to food loss and climate change.  While our interests ranged from carbon emissions to fresh water to urbanization, we never lost sight of the fact that 800 million people around the world are chronically hungry, and that climate change, at its roots, is a question of social justice.
An article in the recent issue of the MIT Technology Review ("Hotter Days Will Drive Global Inequality") makes this all too evident.  “Extreme heat, it turns out, is very bad for the economy,” the article states.  “Crops fail.  People work less, and are less productive when they do work.  That’s why an increase in extremely hot days is one of the more worrisome prospect of climate change.”  Scientists at Stanford and the University of California have now hung some numbers on this threat, estimating that the average global income is predicted to be 23 percent less by the end of the century than it would be without climate change.
Warmer weather, and weather extremes, are going to destroy a quarter of all economic wealth created by human beings by 2100.

This would be hard enough if this loss were spread evenly around the globe, but forecasts suggest that some cooler countries will benefit from climate change while today’s hottest, poorest countries will suffer the most.  Canada (+35%) and Russia (+47%; does it seem like everything is going Russia’s way at the moment?) will be winners; the U.S. and China (both -7%) will be losers, while parts of Africa (-39%), India (-37%), and some of Central and South America (-28%) may suffer withering losses.
Average income for the world’s poorest 60 percent of people by 2100 will be 70 percent below what it would have been.  The rich will get richer and the poor poorer.  But everyone suffers from heat.  Every day over 30C (86F) in an average U.S. county costs every resident $20 in unearned income.  Heat also increases violence and mortality.  “Climate is fundamental to our economy,” one of the study’s researchers says.

Some startling trends.  Can you imagine the Web with more profanity?
It reminds me of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel in which Diamond concludes that food production is the most important factor in a society’s development, and that more generally, environment determines the fate of nations.  “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among people’s environments,” Diamond said, “not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.