The Texas economy could face some of the costliest consequences of climate change as temperatures continue to increase over the next several decades, according to a new study.
In the study published last week in the journal Science, researchers found that the economic burden of climate change will hit states along the Gulf Coast – including Texas – harder than the colder, northern states that will profit from warmer weather.
To estimate costs, researchers analyzed how agriculture, crime, health, energy demands, labor and coastal communities will be impacted by the higher temperatures, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying hurricanes that accompany climate change.
“Texas is the perfect storm for these effects,” said Amir Jina, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago who coauthored the study. “It is one of the states worst affected, with increased energy expenditures, increased mortality rates and coastal infrastructure exposure.”
The study estimates that the U.S. economy will lose about 0.7 percent of GDP per year by 2080 for each degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures.
Texas, however, will likely see a loss of 3.4 to 9.5 percent per year beginning in 2080. And Harris County could face median damages worth up to 6 percent of GDP a year beginning in 2080. Some counties in Texas could fare much worse, facing damages up to 20 percent of GDP – ranking them among the worst hit counties in the nation.
Much of the costs for Texas come from higher heat-related deaths, said James Rising, a postdoctoral fellow at University of California at Berkeley who coauthored the study. By the end of the century, mortality rates in the state likely will increase by between 16 to 45 death for every 100,000 people due to the extreme heat. For perspective, Texas currently experiences about 13 motor vehicle deaths for every 100,000.
Researchers also were able to measure the economic impact climate change would have along the coast, with Texas ranking among the five states impacted most. With rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes, the study analyzed the potential cost of damage faced by Gulf Coast properties.
The study, which comes from researchers at the Climate Impact Lab, relies on “business-as-usual” emissions estimates, mapping the effects of climate change if nothing is done globally to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 21st century.
“We used the business as usual case because we wanted to know if we looked at the structure of the economy today, what places are currently exposed to the most risk of climate change,” Jina said.
The study, which utilizes 116 different climate projections and 29,000 simulations of the national economy – is aimed less at politics and more at policy, according to Rising.
“Right now the EPA is by law required to account for the impacts of climate change when it analyzes the costs and benefits and any project,” Rising said. “But they’re using completely out-of-date numbers. We’re really hoping that our numbers can make a big difference in how they make decisions.”
Researchers acknowledge limitations to their findings. Modeling adaptation and innovations in response to climate change is difficult, so the study holds technology at 2012 levels.
While the study only focused on the effects of climate change on six sectors, researchers describe the model as “dynamic,” capable of incorporating future research on additional factors – like ecological impacts – into the model.
“We really confined ourselves to the kind of things that a business or an economically motivated entity would be concerned about,” Rising said. “How much money are you really going to lose? At the end of the day that’s what’s important to people.”