Report Breaks Down Climate Change’s Impending Effect on Kentucky’s Economy

Jul 28, 2015

Credit NASA

Climate change will begin to have a demonstrative effect on Kentucky’s economy within five years.

This is the conclusion from a report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Risky Business. The organization is dedicated to exploring the economic effects of climate change, and is chaired by liberal billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, as well as former banker and George W. Bush-era Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Recently, groups have begun focusing on the economic costs of climate change, considering any discussion or debate over the science or existence of climate change to be unnecessary. On Monday, 13 major companies including Walmart, UPS, General Motors and Google launched the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” and pledged to reduce emissions with an eye toward their bottom lines.

Risky Business’ report analyzes the factors around the Southeast that will become amplified as the climate changes. Researchers identified “likely” outcomes, which it defined as events with a 67 percent chance of happening if the country continues its current greenhouse gas emissions pattern.

Alfred Sommer, dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, worked on the report with Risky Business. He said it’s easy for politicians to bury their heads in the sand, but that’s a short-sighted perspective.

“And since most politicians look to get support from the business community in order to run their campaigns, the business community is getting alarmed,” he said. “And if the business community is getting alarmed, the politicians have to be responsive to that.”

In Kentucky:

•    Over the past 30 years,  the typical Kentuckian will have experienced an average of 4 days a year with temperatures higher than 95 degrees, the report says. By 2020 to 2039, the report estimates, that number will reach up to 23 days a year. By mid-century, Kentuckians are likely to experience 44 days a year of temperatures over 95 degrees.

•    Between 2020 and 2039, extreme heat is likely to kill 300 more people each year in Kentucky than currently die of extreme heat, the report estimates. Between 2040 and 2059, that number is likely to reach 460 additional deaths each year.

•    People who work outside will be less productive. “By mid-century, heat-related labor productivity declines across all sectors in Kentucky will likely cost the state economy up to $770 million each year, with a 1-in-20 chance of costing more than $1.1 billion a year,” the report said.

•    Due to higher temperatures and more rain, Kentucky’s agriculture sector will probably be affected. The report found that Kentucky’s corn crop yields are likely to decrease by up to 22 percent by 2020 to 2039, and by up to 47 percent in the following two decades. Kentucky’s soybean crop yields are likely to decline by up to 13 percent in the short-term (2020-2039) and by up to 29 percent in the long-term (2040-2059).

•    Extreme heat leads to more air conditioning use, which places more demand on the state’s electrical infrastructure. By 2020-2039, the report estimates that rising demand due solely to climate change will increase utilities’ residential and commercial expenditures by up to 5 percent. By 2040-2059, those expenses are likely to grow up to 9 percent. And those costs may be passed along to consumers.

A lot of the climate change-related events the report looked into will begin happening relatively soon: within five years. Sommer said that’s why the business community is beginning to worry about their bottom lines, and about adaptation measures.

“This is going to happen no matter what we do about climate change,” he said. “So we have to start thinking about what are we going to do about keeping people healthy and safe.”

But he said that doesn’t mean it’s not too late to reduce carbon emissions with an eye toward reducing climate change’s economic toll by mid-century.

Read the report here.