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  • Jacob Bourne

With ‘Heatflation’ Climate Change Hits the World’s Bottom Line

Throwing aside worries about accusations of alarmism, scientists are more boldly considering the gravity of climate change’s worst case scenarios. Yet as 61% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and global poverty intensifies post-pandemic, evidence of climate change’s affects on the economy might resonate a bit more for the average person just trying to cope with daily life.

Supply chain disruptions triggered by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are definitely inflation drivers, yet Georgetown University law professor David A. Super has brought attention to another driver of inflation: global warming. The concept of “heatflation” or heat-driven inflation sheds light on a trend that’s been underway since 1961—rising temperatures are reducing global agricultural productivity, which in turn drives up food prices for consumers.

Credit: Unsplash

“If we wish to control inflation, we must address climate change now,” Super told the The Hill.

Some recent examples of crop losses include severe droughts in Canada leading to mustard shortages, which ruined Bastille Day celebrations for some in France. In the U.S., chickpea yields have dropped by 10% over the past two years. In Italy, heatwaves are punishing arborio rice, tomato and olive cultivation. Meanwhile, in Brazil coffee bean harvests are down nearly 30% due to extreme weather events resulting in higher java prices.

The link between economic losses and climate change isn’t speculative. A recent study by Dartmouth researchers is the first to demonstrate how greenhouse gas emissions have inflicted economic damages on a global scale in a way that shows the nations most responsible.

They found that the top five emitters—The U.S., China, Russia, Brazil and India—together caused $6 trillion in income losses between 1990 and 2014. The losses are equivalent to 14% of annual global gross domestic product, the study concluded, while many other countries were responsible for billions in losses.

Such research is necessary for climate litigation efforts, potentially enabling heavily affected nations to seek restitution for damages from climate change. In order to determine which nations are most culpable for the damage, the researchers had to connect country-level temperature changes with economic losses using historical data and climate models.

The losses hinder nations’ ability to adapt to climate change. This is especially true for developing countries, many of which are the least responsible for the emissions-related damages.

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The study may be groundbreaking but the looming question is what affect it will have. There’s currently no enforceable system in place to hold top emitters accountable. And given that politicians still cast double on whether anthropogenic climate change is even real despite the overwhelming evidence, many would also likely dismiss the study altogether.

However, it could encourage some countries to voluntarily assume a degree of liability or at least let it influence geopolitical policy making. In the meantime, we can expect the heat-induced economic losses to mount.


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