UC Berkeley researchers’ review shows climate change impacting socioeconomic conditions

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A recent review conducted by UC Berkeley researchers shows that climate change is already affecting our society on a daily basis.

Tamma Carleton, a Ph.D. candidate in agricultural and resource economics, and Solomon Hsiang, chancellor’s associate professor of public policy, published a review of more than 100 studieswhich focused on the economic and social impacts of climate change in Science last week. The review aimed to identify links among the studies and to project the impacts of climate change through 2100.

“As a Ph.D. student, you’re often focused on new research,” Carleton said. “But there is real, new knowledge if you can systematically review a large amount of work.”

Carleton and Hsiang have studied climate change together for two years. Carleton said they wanted to keep this study as interdisciplinary as possible while upholding standards of quantitative rigor.

By scanning different sectors of study, starting with econometrics – statistics used to describe economic systemsthey were able to connect climate change to societal impacts. They also considered sectors such as epidemiology and health.

According to the review, the researchers found that the socioeconomic burdens of current climates are typically “comparable in magnitude to the additional projected impact caused by future anthropogenic climate changes.”

For instance, they found that climate change since 1980 has raised conflict risk in Africa by 11 percent. Additionally, current climates slow global economic growth by about 0.25 percentage points per year.

Carleton said a common thread between the studies was the relationship between climate change and societal adaptations.

“What we see is that in some cases, people are really good at adapting, such as using air conditioning,” Carleton said. “But there’s other situations where people are really terrible at adapting. So for example, it opens up the question of why certain adaptations happen more than others.”

David Roland-Holst, campus professor of economics, said that misattributing the socioeconomic impacts of climate change is a real risk. He added that this study is important in aiding effective communication about climate change in democratic settings.

“What we’re faced with is a really serious barrier in the form of risk perception,” Roland-Holst said. “There might be an element of denial … mainly, we’re not paying attention in the right way.”

Carleton hopes her work will influence increased cost-benefit analysis in terms of climate change and awareness of adaptation strategies in policymaking.

“I don’t think the obstacle to climate change is that the research base is narrow,” said Michael O’Hare, campus professor of public policy. “I think that the obstacle is political.”

Contact Aleah Jennings-Newhouse and Ashley Wong at [email protected].