Tuesday, July 11, 2017

New Study Suggests Global Warming Will Be Kind to the Northwest: But There Will Still Be Impacts

A recent study published in Science Magazine by Solomon Hsiang and others completed an economic analysis of the economic effects of global warming by the end of the century (2080-2099). They considered a range of impacts, including agricultural, property and violent crime, mortality, and coastal issues (sea level rise, storms), among others.  Doing so, they created a map of total economic damage, shown below (in percent of Gross Domestic Product, GDP).  Red and orange colors signify global warming will cause damage, while green colors indicated that global warming will be an economic plus.  They drove their economic models with output from climate simulations.

The bottom line is that cool states come out ahead, while warmer locations are hurt by global warming. Not good for the southeast states (particularly Florida and Texas) and most of Arizona.  But generally quite good for the Pacific Northwest.   Only a thin strip on the eastern slopes of the Cascades has a slight negative impact and the coastal zone does quite well. 
Hsiang et. al, 2017 Science Magazine

You can see some of the component contributors below.  For our region, big gains in agriculture from the added warmth.  Large drops in mortality (cold is a killer).  Far less energy costs for heating.  No increase in coastal damage because our land is generally well above sea level.

Hsiang et. al, 2017 Science Magazine

It is interesting to compare the Hsiang et al economic analysis with one examining meteorological threats from global warming  found in one of my earlier blogs (see below).  Each color represents a different threat (e.g, red would be storm surge from hurricanes).  The white area indicates one area of little increase in threat:  the Pacific Northwest.

So the Northwest is an area that should do particularly well under global warming-- we will have plenty of rain, a bit of warming will be welcome over much of the area, our storms should not become more severe, and sea level rise is not much of a problem.  Hsiang et al suggests we will come out ahead economically.    

But I am not sure that paper considers all the costs.  Warming will bring less snowpack in the mountains as the freezing level rises, so less snow melt available in the summer.  Thus, we will have to either learn to be more efficient with water (e.g., more drip irrigation in eastern Washington) or build expensive dams and reservoirs (costing billions of dollars).

Although the total precipitation will not change dramatically (small increase), we do expect the heaviest events to bring 30-40% more rain...and thus more flooding.  Thus, we will need to move folks away from rivers, something that could easily cost billions more. And away from steep slopes (like Oso).

Our east-side forests are in terrible shape due to fire suppression and poor forest practices (clear cutting rather than thinning, leaving slash, etc).  As a result, we have seen increasing number of large, intense fires, and local warming will make this worse.   We thus need to spend billions more to restore our forests to better shape to prepare.

So global warming will cost us in these and other ways; as a result, the benefits of lower heating bills, less ice/snow on the roadways, and enhanced agriculture will be balanced in part by steps needed for adaptation.

Global warming will probably end up being a wash for us.  But this will not be true of those living in warmer sections of the U.S., and for much of world's population that lives in he subtropics (such as India, SE Asia, Africa's Sahel, and Mexico).  Thus, the moral imperative is for us to reduce our carbon emissions, while at the same time building the climate resilience of the region.

Atmospheric Sciences 101:    I will be teaching the introductory weather class this autumn (10:30 AM, Kane Hall, UW).   Open to UW students and the community (and inexpensive to audit if you are over 60 through the UW Access Program).


Tim Lofton said...

Moving to Houston was always a mistake in the back of my head, and I still want to move back. Now I'm not sure I could afford to.

carlbuick said...

The wine growing regions are moving north. Wine production is failing in southern California and flourishing in Washington state. Living in central Washington (Wenatchee) brings this home. When apple orchards are being uprooted and replaced with grapes, one can see the handwriting on the wall. Wine tasting has become a major tourist industry. 35 years ago, grape growing was discouraged as not profitable, or sustainable. See https://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2013/04/wine-growing-regions-moving-toward-poles-c-tes-du-yellowstone-anyone or Google "wine regions moving North."

Ozoner said...

Flood the moat, pull up the drawbridge and secure the gates.

Unknown said...

As I've said in previous comments, the main issue for us will be massive in-migration from those states/regions hit harder by GW. Think our population is growing fast now? We ain't seen nothing yet.


craig threlkeld said...

Those displaced people will be looking for less impacted regions to move to.
That fact is something we should accept and work toward mitigating immediately.

As our region developed primarily in the post-war automobile era, we are late to the urban density game, and culturally antagonistic towards it.
Though we are reacting positively to change that, it's obvious we need to accelerate the process, and do so in as non-impactful a way as possible. We have to do more than just concentrate development to preserve our local ecosystem to whatever extent possible, but to reduce the impact of developments themselves so they help enhance our urban environments as much as possible.

Spring Courtright said...

Perhaps the most ironic thing is that the majority of locations noted to suffer the most are often the most Republican leaning, and as a base, don't feel global warming is much of a threat. I guess time will tell how ugly it gets.

Lee Bruch said...

What are your thoughts about this article in the New Yorker?

BAMCIS said...

Those studies probably don't take into consideration climate change refugees that will come HERE and what THAT impact might be. The assumption with those studies might be that everyone in those heavily effected areas will be either perfectly content to stay and cook, or are unable to leave. Meanwhile we just bask in or comfort and thumb our noses. Right?

Those folks WILL find a way to leave if staying means extreme hardship, at least on the short term until the hotter regions adapt. That or those states impose martial law and allow no travel. That scenario is not impossible but probably highly unlikely, thus there will be a migration. Those migrants need to be housed, given sustenance and meaningful employment. Is that something the PNW is ready to handle?

John Marshall said...

It seems most things come down to winners and losers these days. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with putting climate change into that bucket yet, but the study you referenced was interesting.

Over time, I suppose we should prepare for more and more people to want to move here to avoid some kind of hell back home.

But think about how much the tech boom has changed Seattle.

Now add in a climate change boom that will last for lifetimes.

I guess it means we'll have local winners and losers too. The calculus just seems odd at this time.

Ozoner said...

Flood the moat, pull up the drawbridge and secure the gates.

Richard said...

Lol. Houston is a mistake in so many ways...

mig said...

Another cost not considered for the Northwest is our attachment to the NW environment and way of life. Do we want salmon? Western red cedars? Countless other flora and fauna? Not something that should be discounted.

Unknown said...

One thing I keep wondering: at what point do modelers and planners start looking hard at what happens beyond 2100? Seems like that has been the horizon for the last 30 years or so. When do we push it out to 2120, at least?

How long does the PNW "tranquility zone" last?


Eric Blair said...

Time for a full accounting and debate on this subject, out in the open for all of the public to witness:


It's well past nigh for some of the leading lights of the scientific community to share their full research with the public, and have complete transparency on this issue. Michael Mann is now being held in contempt of court in Canada for not divulging his research. Enough. Let's hear their solutions for dealing with their dire predictions and what the economic impacts regarding those solutions actually entail. Concurrently, let's also hear what the skeptics from the scientific community have been dealing with when they dared to question some of the sweeping predictions that have been stated over the past two decades. If anyone objects to this kind of hearing, let's find out why they're so afraid of this kind of presentation.

Ansel said...

Well, I hope it wipes out "June Gloom" In the last 3 years, it seems to be doing so, although that isn't what Cliff has predicted, and I realize that 3 years is too small a sample size.. I am not looking forward to more forest fires though.

Bruce Kay said...

We will have much bigger problems than salmon extinction or dying red cedars. This notion that we will be insulated from the worst effects simply due to regional favourability is naive to say the least. I think a few have already pointed out why

sciencefirst said...

A full debate and complete transparency are indeed long overdue. Only such a debate will make "climate science" respectable again.

Jon Kahrs said...

Climate Science is already very settled with many studies over many years. You can of course insist that people debate you but let's be honest, dialogue is just an excuse to dither. And it wasn't like suddenly 95% of the climate scientist suddenly decided in favor of "global warming". We have known the possibilities of global warming for 50 years. The initial hypothesis was generated by a simply understand of the properties of C02 and other greenhouse gases. Anyone can run experiments comparing the greenhouse effect of these gases. The only way that these "simple" models would not be true would be if there was a counterbalancing effect that would absorb C02 such as plankton, trees and cold water. But we can also approximate the effect of these parameters and get an idea of the scale. Moreover, since the actual C02 has been rising, this is argument that this absorption is being overwhelmed. The only other critique is that the warming is insignificant and will not have much of an effect on our climate. But modern and paleontological records support the idea that warming does effect climate. I can go on and I am sure other people could provide even better evidence and support modern models better. My point is that if you actually were interested in scientific critique rather then just being contrarian, you'd see that the evidence is pretty overwhelming. On policy issues, there really is no downside in the long run in supporting "alternative" energy- but that is another issue.

JeffB said...

The evidence shows that the ground based temperature record has been manipulated upward There's no credible warming or sea level rise. Much ado about nothing. And support for Irrational Climate Alarm has long since evaporated in the eyes of the electorate. We have many real and current problems to solve. We don't need a climate bogeyman.


Kristie said...

how does Hawaii fair in global warming?