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Climate change: Southern, poor counties to be hit hardest in US

  • FILE - In this June 22, 2017, file photo, beachgoers enter the water even though double-red flags are flying, warning of dangerous conditions and extremely rough surf in the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy, in Seaside, Fla. An extensive first-of-its-kind study says global warming is likely to hit southern and poorer U.S. counties hard. The study released June 29, used more than 29,000 computer simulations to estimate different global warming scenarios that effect energy costs, agricultural production, deaths and other factors. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File) Kiichiro Sato



Associated Press
Thursday, June 29, 2017

WASHINGTON — Poor and southern U.S. counties will get hit hardest by global warming, according to a first-of-its-kind detailed projection of potential climate change effects at the local level.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, calculates probable economic harms and benefits for the more than 3,100 counties in the United States under different possible scenarios for worldwide emissions of heat-trapping gases. It looks at agriculture, energy costs, labor costs, coastal damage from rising seas, crime and deaths, then estimates the effect on average local income by the end of the century.

Researchers computed the possible effects of 15 types of impacts for each county across 29,000 simulations.

“The south gets hammered and the north can actually benefit,” said study lead author Solomon Hsiang, a University of California economist. “The south gets hammered primarily because it’s super-hot already. It just so happens that the south is also poorer.”

The southern part of the nation’s heartland — such as Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky and southern Illinois — also feels the heat hard, he said. Michigan, Minnesota, the far northeast, the northwest and mountainous areas benefit the most.

The county hit hardest if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated is tiny Union County in Florida, where median income would take a 28 percent hit. And among counties with at least 500,000 people, Polk County in central Florida would suffer the most, with damages of more than 17 percent of income.

Seven of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of projected county income losses from climate change are in Florida, along with two in Texas and one in Georgia. Half of these are among the poorest counties in the country.

Five of the 10 counties that would benefit the most from global warming are in Michigan. The others are in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and the mountainous region of North Carolina. Mineral County in Nevada would see a 13 percent increase in income, while Tacoma, Washington’s Pierce County would benefit by about 2 percent, the most among counties with more than 500,000 people.

“You’re going to see this transfer of wealth from the southeast to the parts of the country that are less exposed to risk,” said study co-author Robert Kopp, a Rutgers University climate scientist.

The whole nation’s gross domestic product would shrink by 0.7 percent hit for every degree Fahrenheit temperatures go up, the study calculates, but that masks just how uneven the damage could be. On average, the poorest counties would suffer a drop of 13.1 percent of income if carbon pollution continues unabated, while the richest counties would fall 1.1 percent.