Climate change has minor winners and big losers


A terrible thought, but suppose the planet were to heat up by 2 degrees Celsius — the level past which environmental damage would be catastrophic. It would also be wildly expensive. That much warming could cost the global economy $69 trillion by 2100, according to a study by Moody’s Analytics.

The consulting firm breaks down the pain country by country. Saudi Arabia would be the hardest hit. Among the larger economies, India would suffer greatly, as well as Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa.

But a handful would actually see their economies grow as result. Canada is most likely to gain, though modestly, from rising temperatures. The UK, Germany and France could also benefit.

And the United States? The impact is a bit complicated. Its economy would shrink a little if the temperature rises were toward the lower end of the projections. It would grow a little if the increases were greater. But that’s oversimplifying. Benefits and pain would be unequally distributed according to region.

There’s no little irony in that the parts of the U.S. most devastated by climate change — places seeing the worst flooding, heat waves and natural disasters — also tend to elect politicians dedicated to doing nothing about it. Others may explain the thinking or lack thereof.

Money considerations aside, radical changes in the climate are attacks on our beloved cultures. Many of us prefer the natural order of things where, depending on our location, winters are supposed to be cold and summers, though hot, should be bearable.

So how is the warming affecting local economies? Most obviously, it is causing a rise in sea levels that is erasing valuable coastal real estate.

Florida’s real estate market could lose the most from the higher sea levels, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The group named Miami Beach America’s most at-risk city. But much of heavily populated South Florida would see prime developed land disappear underwater, along with much of its tax base.

Higher temperatures expand the geographic range of disease-carrying insects, and they spread pathogens into new areas. The result will be more human sickness, lost workdays and increased spending on health services. Sweden will see more tourism, Singapore less.

Interestingly, some are predicting that New England’s farm economy will prosper as higher temperatures and longer growing seasons allow for crops that used to find the climate inhospitable. Expanded opportunities for tourism would also benefit the region, along with Canada to the north.

On the downside, a lot of valuable real estate along the New England coast is low-lying and will be lost to rising waters. Over the last 12 years or so, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have already suffered more than $400 million loss in home values as the waters have taken over.

When temperatures rise, demand for heating oil falls dramatically, especially in cold countries. That accounts for Moody’s projection that Saudi Arabia could see its gross domestic product fall more than 10 percent by 2048. Russia would also experience reduced oil sales, although that would be partially offset by more tourism and a longer growing season. (Warmer temperatures increase electric demand for air conditioning, but more energy is used globally for heating.)

Moody’s Analytics did not try to measure the potential impact of mass migrations out of environmentally insupportable regions. Nor did it attempt to consider the increased costs of natural disasters. Very costly events, such as Hurricane Florence’s devastation of the North Carolina coast, aren’t part of the calculations.

The costs of not curbing climate change are enormous. Thinking you’ll be dead by then anyway may no longer be a good assumption.

By Josh Bovee

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