Friday, December 31, 2010

The impact of poor climate

We often cannot choose where we live, especially as academics, and have to bite the bullet when we end up in places where the climate is less than favorable. You sometimes wonder why humans willingly decided to settle in numbers in uninviting places. And it matters, as people not like poor climate, but that may be compensate by other factors, like having a job. Still, climate matters for satisfaction.

David Maddison and Katrin Rehdanz document using the world values survey that poor climate has a significant impact on life satisfaction. The latter is defined by self-reported survey results, thus to be taken with a rock of salt, and poor climate is defined by a measure akin to a standard deviation from a comfortable temperature, 65F or 18C. How significant the impact is cannot be evaluated without seeing some statistics about the climate measure, but let us believe the authors for a moment. This means that, ceteribus paribus, people in Central America and some parts of Africa should be the happiest. Of course, all other things are not equal. And there may be others things that correlate with temperature variations that also have an impact of happiness. For example, long nights in the winter have a strong impact on depressions in Nordic countries.

Maddison and Rehdanz then proceed to look at the consequences of a climate change scenario which provides country specific temperature changes. From this exercise, they find that Europe will gain in satisfaction, the US will be unaffected and Africa will suffer tremendously. While this is an interesting first shot at the question, I am not quite sure I am willing to run with it. In particular because the initial elasticities may be tainted by correlates that do not vary with climate change (for example, length of night is not expect to change), and because climate change will have other important consequences, for example about the availability of fresh water. But at least, this paper gets us thinking about these issues, and it highlights that those who would suffer the most are those that have the least to do with the origin of climate change.

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