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Could Climate Change Worsen U.S. Economic Inequality?

As the planet warms, a new study predicts some parts of the U.S. will see population loss, including the Midwest. (
As the planet warms, a new study predicts some parts of the U.S. will see population loss, including the Midwest. (
July 11, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. – Some states could see some benefits as climate change forces people and assets to move away from the nation's hottest regions into more temperate areas - but scientists project economic inequality will increase as the planet warms.

Rutgers University Professor Robert Kopp, co-author of a new study published in the journal Science, says if efforts to reduce climate pollution aren't successful, the poorest third of U.S. counties could lose up to 20 percent of their income.

"And those places in the United States that are already warm tend to be the places that are poorest," he said. "So, climate change is going to act as an amplifier of inequality in this country."

Scientists from Rutgers, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Chicago tapped data from 116 climate projections to calculate real-world costs and benefits. They looked at how agriculture, energy demand and other indicators would be affected by higher temperatures, changing rainfall and rising seas.

Their conclusion: if the U.S. continues on its current path, the nation could see the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in its history.

Kopp says economic opportunity will likely shift to the North and West, with colder and richer counties better able to adapt to, and even benefit from in some ways, temperature increases.

"So, we might expect people and capital to move from those areas that are hardest hit - like the Southeast and lower Midwest - to areas like the North, and the Rocky Mountains, that are comparatively insulated from some of these impacts that we've looked at," he explained.

The group projects for each one-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures, the U.S. economy could lose nearly one percent of its Gross Domestic Product output.

Kopp hopes these new metrics can be used to help manage climate change as an economic risk - in much the same way the Federal Reserve uses interest rates to manage the risk of recession.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - NE