In our July 14 newsletter, ASAP Managing Director Beth Gibbons examined the uncertainties of a recent economic study on the effects of climate change produced by the Climate Impact Lab. Here, ASAP Intern Mary Winn Granum shares another take on the impact of CIL’s findings.


In the June 30 issue of Science, a study led by the Climate Impact Lab indicated that the economy  would suffer greater losses in Southern states, where rising temperatures would create more extreme, less habitable conditions. The study, “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States,” designed a systematic framework for examining impacts down to a county level to process data more precisely than that of federal and state impact estimates.

Looking ahead to 2080, the hottest regions in the country – some of which contain the poorest counties in the country – may suffer losses up to 20% of GDP per year due to severe weather and other climate-related damages. Although these projections are still years in the future, practitioners must work now to mitigate such devastation to these communities.

As commentary from The New York Times notes, this study is limited by its reliance on existing data on the financial implications of climate change. Climate science is updating constantly, with new estimates on the severity of future storms and likely temperatures, and market economies are not prepared for complex events which are so difficult to predict.

These economic outlooks are further complicated when taking into account a 2015 study, also led by CIL, which looks at how climate change and developments in technology have affected temperature-related mortality rates over the last several decades – of course, mortality rates, too, are unequal among different regions. As “Estimating economic damages” points out, “warming reduces mortality in cold northern counties and elevates it in hot southern counties.”

With the projected health and safety hazards presented by inhospitable temperatures, some of the worst affected communities are already at a disadvantage today. These hot spots coincide with areas where residents already face extreme poverty. According to the study’s nationwide results:

In the richest third of counties, the average very likely range … for damages is −1.2 to 6.8% of county income (negative damages are benefits), whereas for the poorest third of counties, the average range is 2.0 to 19.6% of county income. These differences are more extreme for the richest 5% and poorest 5% of counties, with average intervals for damage of −1.1 to 4.2% and 5.5 to 27.8%, respectively.

Impoverished counties simply do not have the resources – natural or financial – to deal with losing 20% GDP per year. These communities are already vulnerable. Can we still save these Southern communities? Are Northern regions ready to welcome climate refugees migrating to safety?

Resources exist to aid vulnerable counties in their current state, including NOAA’s U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit and the CDC’s guides for vulnerable populations facing extreme heat, but these measures are insufficient to prepare for the coming hazards. How can we, as adaptation professionals, protect these regions? Connect, share ideas, prioritize the focus for adapting these communities so they can survive in the coming years. Southern ASAP members, what resources do you need? Northern ASAP members, what resources can you give? The adaptation community must act now, together.

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