Recent study by UC Berkeley researchers reveals economic effects of climate change

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A widening wealth gap, an overheated Central Valley and a rising violent crime rate are all at stake in California as the planet warms up, according to a recent study by campus researchers.

The study, published in Science magazine late June, provides a tangible way for the public to see the national effects of climate change through measures such as GDP, mortality rates and coastal storms.

“This study is a heroic attempt to combine and quantify many of the multiple types of local impacts of global climate disruption,” said John Harte, professor in the campus College of Natural Resources, in an email. “It differs from previous work primarily in its geographic specificity and in the sector by sector detail of its … approach.”

According to the study, an average increase in global temperature of one degree Celsius — or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit — is expected to drop the country’s GDP by 1.2 percent. In California, the number is lower — the state will lose about 0.3 percent of annual output.

The state, however, will not be uniformly affected. In fact, according to data released by the Climate Impact Lab, some counties in California will actually benefit economically from the change.

While Alameda County’s net loss is expected to be around 1.4 percent of annual economic output and inland counties’ losses range from 3 percent to 9 percent, some northern counties — such as oceanside Mendocino County — will actually gain wealth from the effects of rising temperatures.

In fact, California’s climate and economic diversity make the state a good representation of the United States as a whole. National trends such as an exacerbation of the income gap — where hot and poor communities get hotter and poorer, and wealthier, cooler communities like those along the coast lose less — are present on the golden state map, according to James Rising, a former postdoctoral fellow with the campus Energy and Resources Group.

“The areas that are poor in the US are the ones that are going to be the most impacted. In the US, the South is hotter and poorer, whereas the North is colder and richer,” Rising said. “How clear the relationship is there was really surprising to us.”

Andrew Hultgren, a doctoral student in the campus agricultural and resource economics program, was not involved in the study but is working with the Climate Impact Lab, which includes co-author of the study and campus public policy professor Solomon Hsiang. Hultgren said in the past it was difficult for policy makers and the general public to tangibly grasp the concept of climate change — something he hopes this research can combat.

“I want to help make it clear to policy makers and the public that (climate change) is a real issue with real consequences that we need to be grappling with now,” Hultgren said.

Contact Kate Wolffe at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katewolffe.