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FunTimes Magazine

The Economic and Social Impact of a Warming Planet

By Ernesto Velazquez

A look at the planet’s land masses and its population distribution reveals that the northern

latitudes are expansive and relatively sparsely populated. These areas are within the political boundaries of powerful industrialized nations such as Canada, USA, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries.

As global warming increases, a prevailing argument supported by recent historical trends point to beneficial economic effects of climate change for these counties, such as increased agricultural yields and habitability, as well as access to natural resources. When measured strictly in terms of GDP, a few of these cold climate countries, e.g., Canada, Norway and Russia, have already benefited from global warming in the past few decades. As compelling as the argument is, the gains will be short lived, and ultimately the suffering will not spare anyone.

The short-term gains will ultimately lead to across the board loses for all countries, rich or poor, hot or cold. Economies are projected to shrink significantly if we continue business as usual. That is, if we keep pumping the thin veil of atmospheric gases encapsulating our planet with ever larger amounts of greenhouse gases.

A study at Stanford University looked at the impact that global warming has had on global inequality (Noah S. DiffenbaughandMarshall Burke, 2019) by focusing on each country’s per capita GDP—the per-person value of the country’s economic activity from 1961 to 2010. Then they used climate models to estimate what each country’s GDP would have been without the influence of global warming.

“India, for example, has approximately 30% lower per capita GDP today than if global

warming had not occurred,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, the study’s lead author and an earth sciences professor at Stanford University. “In India there are hundreds of millions of people living below $2 a day. This reduction in per capita GDP is substantial. That is the order of magnitude of the economic impacts during the Great Depression here in the United States.”

Diffenbaugh and Burke compared their findings across countries and found that “the greatest

harm to GDP was in poorer countries closer to the equator, while a few northern countries

showed a GDP gain compared to the model of a world without global warming. The United

States showed a loss of less than 1 %.”

A Cambridge University study published in August 2019 supports the argument that despite the

possibility of short-term GDP gains for northern nations, no country will be spared from the economic devastation brought upon by climate change. In fact, the research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research at Cambridge suggests that, “on average, richer, colder countries would lose as much income to climate change as poorer, hotter nations.”

The argument that taking action would be too costly and economically unsound, is a tired excuse, short sighted and selfish, dangerously passing the planetary threat of existential proportions to the generation of youth and the unborn.

According to the Cambridge study, at the current rate of carbon emissions, “the United States is

on track to lose 10.5% of its GDP by 2100 … Canada would lose over 13%. Furthermore, 7% of global GDP is likely to vanish by the end of the century unless serious action is taken.” Japan, India and New Zealand lose 10% of their incomes. Switzerland is likely to be down by 12%, Russia by 9%, and the UK down by 4%. On the other hand, research shows that adhering to the Paris Agreement limits would keep the losses of the U.S. and Canada under 2% of their GDP. The reductions in global GDP ironically may be beneficial in one way: less economic production usually follows less emissions.

However, in the end, there are no winners, with global economic loss so profound that there is no historic precedence. Economies are human constructs that have evolved to the modern “fossil fuel energy intensive” industrial global machine negatively affecting climate through carbon emissions.

The real loss is in the enormity of human suffering that has been a direct result of global warming, such as food insecurity from failed crop yields, population displacement due to rising sea levels, ravaging storms, floods, and the rise of killer heat waves. In addition, there is the disastrous loss in biodiversity, with millions of species simply unable to adapt, some we know and many undiscovered, which are barreling towards extinction.

We need to take this personally. Will your children’s children ever contemplate a Monarch butterfly in your backyard, a coral reef off the Florida Keys, or the pink sand and turquoise water

of Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda? Do you care?