Chart of the Day: Turning the Entire Planet Into a Tropical Zone Might Be Bad for Economic Output

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

People in hot climates don’t work as hard as people in more temperate climates. It’s hot! You get tired more quickly. You need to take more breaks. You don’t get as much done.

This is hardly a new insight. But it turns out you can measure how much less people work when the temperature goes up. And the answer is: about 2% less for every extra degree Celsius (see chart below). A recent natural experiment confirmed this, when the Japanese government asked businesses to use less air conditioning after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Productivity decreased at just about the predicted rate.

But earthquakes and equatorial latitudes aren’t the only things that raise temperatures. Global warming does it too. So what does that mean for worker productivity in the future? Solomon Hsiang, a sustainable development post-doc at Princeton, explains:

In my 2010 PNAS paper, I found that labor-intensive sectors of national economies decreased output by roughly 2.4% per degree C and argued that this looked suspiously like it came from reductions in worker output.

[From a later post] Reductions in worker output have never been included in economic models of future warming [] despite the fact that experiments fifty years ago showed that temperature has a strong impact on worker output []. In my dissertation I did some back-of-the-envelope estimates using the above numbers and found that productivity impacts alone might reduce per capita output by ~9% in 2080-2099 (in the absence of strong adaptation). This cost exceeds the combined cost of all other projected economic losses combined.

Of course, maybe robots will be doing all our work for us by then. But maybe not. It’s yet another reason — in addition to famines, drought, drowned cities, and the death of millions — to think that turning the entire world into a tropical zone might not be such a great idea.

Via Andrew Gelman at The Monkey Cage.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate