Bryan Caplan  

Climate Preferences: Seek Life, Seek Heat

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In the past, I've asked people if they would prefer their climate to be warmer, cooler, or about the same, and reported that a straw poll of my undergrads leans in a pro-warmer direction. Now a new NBER paper strikingly argues that warmer weather is better for life expectancy, not just comfort:

[B]oth extreme heat and extreme cold result in immediate increases in mortality. However, the increase in mortality following extreme heat appears entirely driven by temporal displacement, while the increase in mortality following extreme cold is long lasting.
In other words, deaths from heat reflect what coroners call a "harvesting effect"; heat kills people who didn't have long to live anyway. The same doesn't hold for deaths from cold.

The life expectancy benefit of heat is large, too:

These longevity gains associated with long term trends in geographical mobility account for 8%-15% of the total gains in life expectancy experienced by the US population over the past 30 years.

Does this mean that global warming will, on net, be a good thing? No, but it's striking how few people even consider the possibility.

P.S. The paper also indirectly confirms my hypothesis that people prefer warmer climates, on average: People have been moving to warmer climates over the past thirty years.

HT: Tyler.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
John Thacker writes:

People have been moving to warmer climates over the past thirty years.

While I prefer warmer climates, surely this population shift is also related to modern air conditioning being invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, and only really spreading to residential homes in the last fifty years. Effective heating has existed for longer.

Many people may prefer warm climates with air conditioning to cold climates with heating, but prefer cold climates with heat to warm climates without A/C.

David Thomson writes:

Richard Lindzen says that modest global warming may not be a problem. It could even be a good thing! Al Gore, Jr. and his buddies are subconsciously (I am trying to be nice) seeking power. They perceive themselves to be the annointed ones who should be running things. Any excuse, however flimsy, will be employed to achieve their goals.

Matt writes:

Preferred climate is a hot topic, pardon the pun. The fear is we get an uninformed vote and warmer, but much stormier causes us to change our minds.

If we change our mind, then we have much more work to do to get back to the new consensus. The Glacial Engineering industry has a 50 year update cycle. If we decide to move the economic zone to, say, just north of the Canadian border, then find such desertification in the south, it becomes a we bit too late.

David N. Welton writes:

"on average: People have been moving to warmer climates over the past thirty years."

Of course, you mean 'americans'. It would be interesting to se e the statistic worldwide (probably not relevant compared to people moving for other reasons) or even in Europe, where people could, language barriers aside, move to warmer places.

Jim writes:

"I've asked people if they would prefer their climate to be warmer"

Did you ask any African farmers?

"Does this mean that global warming will, on net, be a good thing? No, but it's striking how few people even consider the possibility."

Perhaps most people consider the possibility, realise it's probably not the case, and don't write blog posts about it. I don't think you should assume that you're the most open-minded person on a subject just because you're willing to treat seriously various silly and uninformed perspectives.

Brad Hutchings writes:

There is some interesting research to be done into narratives like the anthropomorphic global warming narrative or the CFC narrative from 20 years ago. I'm sure there are others, perhaps Iraqi WMDs... The similarity is that they proceed like a high school geometry proof. If you accept each step as true, then you have to accept the path and the eventual conclusion. What Bryan is doing in this post is questioning one of the steps, the same step questioned by NASA top dog Michael Griffin a couple months ago. When the answer is "you think you're so clever for asking that question", we can assume that the whole narrative is fairly weak. We know what can happen to long bridges supported by a weak foundation, right?

Sigve Indregard writes:

Yeah, tinkering with the climate is probably a good idea, considering that our species has adapted to life on this planet throughout the history of life. I thought economists knew their Darwin.

dearieme writes:

I'd settle for the British climate if only the rain were restricted to the hours of darkness.

Matt writes:

If we choose, go to the mid-point in the glacial cycle where we can make small, but stable changes in the ice line. Then, we can be productive by adding or subtracting to the ice line, and hence the glaciers worldwide, like a rainbird system, delivering the proper amont of water to each contient.

Heather writes:

Where does the information that "extreme cold result[s] in immediate increases in mortality" come from? What I have seen in my home state of Minnesota is that we are consistently the healthiest state in the nation, while also enduring the most extreme weather in the nation. It might be true that extreme cold in the absence of shelter leads to increased mortality, but that is hardly the case for the average person in the US. Apart from this, the cold has a benefit of reducing disease because carriers of disease, such as mosquitoes, die during the winter, reducing exposure to disease. In fact, areas that are very warm tend to have high mortality due to diseases such as malaria that only survive in warm climates.

Karl Smith writes:

My short response is that global warming is likely to be a good thing for the US and a bad thing for Bangledesh.

The irony that the wealthiest people in the world could actually benefit from the increase in carbon emissons is part of what makes the whole thing tradgic.

I understand that in NoVa you are surrounded by and are responding to the hard left, which demonizes carbon. However, I think it is best just to forget them entirely and focus on the real issue of whether or not there is likely to be a rise in sea levels or hurricane intensity and what this will do to the costal poor.

Bill writes:

I guess I would have to agree with the poster who brings up Bangladesh. There are countries that are only a few inches or feet above sea level. I don't doubt America could get through it, even if Florida were put underwater. But how do you suppose we help the millions and millions who would otherwise drown? If you don't consider that, what good is your analysis?

dale coberly writes:

Caplan

You need to call up a real ecologist and learn from him or her the likely consequences of global warming. Until you do that, your nostrums on climate change are seriously irresponsible.

8 writes:

The problem for Bangladesh isn't global warming, it's poverty. If global warming is not man made, we'll wreck our economy, Bangladesh will be even poorer, and they'll still be underwater. Whereas if they are rich, they can mitigate the problem.

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