Where climate change will hurt most

By Frank Convery, EDF Chief Economist

This regular column honors the memory of Robert W. Wilson, a longtime EDF supporter and champion of harnessing market forces to drive environmental progress.

Posterity be damned: what has posterity ever done for me?” Boyle Roache, an 18th century Irish politician, captured a universal truth. Most of us heavily discount the future. This basic fact goes far to explain why the risks of climate change have failed to take hold in the popular imagination. But the future is getting closer. Not only are destructive storms like Harvey, Irma and Maria here today, but an emerging literature on the impacts of climate change is beginning to transform our understanding of what is in store, when and where.

For example, a recent paper in Science, “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States,” integrates climate science, econometric analyses and other data to pinpoint where and how much harm could occur in local economies. That damage won’t be distributed equally. The biggest burden is likely to be felt in the South, while the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast will show modest gains. Agricultural yields could fall by 30-90% in Texas, parts of the Midwest and California—but may increase in the Pacific Northwest.

There is no uncertainty that climate change is caused largely by humans. But we are only beginning to learn where the damages will be, when they will occur and how catastrophic they will be. The emerging picture isn’t pretty. Reports like this one provide guideposts in planning for resiliency as the planet changes.