A new study from Berkeley researchers found that the lower class in the US will suffer the effects of global warming much more than the upper class. It’s somewhat ironic, since these are also traditionally the areas with the highest rate of climate change denial.

The map reflects the uneven distribution of economic impacts of unmitigated climate change based on county-level research. Image credits: Solomon Hsiang and co-authors of “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States” in the journal Science.

The poorest third of all US counties will lose up to 20 percent of their incomes, in an event that will bear similarities to the Great Recession. Meanwhile, regions such as the Pacific Northwest and New England will gain economically over the Gulf and Southern states. Basically, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen more than ever, and the country itself stands to lose 0.7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product for temperatures rising even just one degree Fahrenheit. If you think that’s not much, it’s about $126 billion. These are the conclusions of a new study carried out by two researchers from UC Berkeley: Solomon Hsiang,  and James Rising.

“Climate change is going to be like a huge transfer of wealth from some people to others,” said Hsiang. “This is kind of analogous to a tech boom in one region of the country and industry collapsing in another region. It’s going to make the current economic cleavages in this country even bigger.”

 They analyzed 116 climate change forecasts and numerous economic analyses developed by researchers from all around the world, assessing the effects of climate change on crime, agriculture, energy, labor, coastal communities and mortality. Their main findings are:
  • rising sea levels will cause more frequent tropical cyclones, worsening problems for low-lying coastal cities. South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida will be the most affected.
  • rising temperatures will drastically reduce agricultural productivity in the Midwest.
  • annual national mortality rates will rise by roughly five deaths per 100,000 people for each degree Celsius increase in temperature.
  • electricity demands, especially related to air conditioning, will increase in all parts of the country except the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.
  • the number of hours worked will “decline about 0.11 percent for each additional degree in rising global mean surface temperature for workers who are not generally exposed to outdoor temperatures, and by 0.53 percent for high-risk, outside workers”.
  • violent crime rates in the country will increase by about 0.9 percent per each additional degree Celsius in global mean surface temperature.

It’s important to once again highlight that these effects won’t be spread equally across the country. The south, which is already very hot, will generally experience the most problems. The Midwest, long considered the country’s breadbasket due to its intensive farming, will dry out and be unable to reach the usual quotas.

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Research also considered that rising temperatures might convince some people to relocate, but they think this is unlikely to play a big part in the overall numbers.

Things are looking pretty grim in the US, and things are clearer than ever: global warming will affect you, whether or not you realize it, and whether or not you believe in it. Hopefully, serious action is taken before it’s too late — though we might have already burned an important bridge.

Now, researchers say they want to build a similar model at a global scale.

“There are thousands of people around the world working on this problem,” said Hsiang. “What we are trying to do is to build a system, stitching together all the different models and building ‘the machine in the middle’ to bring it all together. This is how we should be doing policy, as a society.”