Phuket@photographer.net/Flickr

A new study finds a strong relationship between rising temperatures and stunted economic growth.

In a work culture obsessed with productivity, not even office temperatures can escape study. For example, one study found that employees in colder office temperatures made 44 percent more typing errors than those working in a “comfortable” temperature. Another study found that the optimal office temperature for desk work is around 70°F—with performance dropping as much as 9 percent if temperatures reached a tropical 86°F.

Now, this relationship is being investigated on the level of regional climates. A new paper in Nature looks at the macroeconomic damages of rising temperatures, and its authors—Marshall Burke, Solomon Hsiang, and Edward Miguel—hail from Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley. They looked at economic data from 1960 to 2010 in 166 countries, and found that a nation’s productivity declined as its climate got hotter. The researchers’ model found that national productivity increases as temperature goes up, but peaks at an annual average of 55ºF. At higher annual average temperatures than that, a country’s productivity starts declining.

They concluded that by the year 2100, 77 percent of countries will be poorer as a result of this lost productivity —with poor countries in hot regions getting hit the hardest. “Almost all low-income countries are in 'warm' regions, and thus are predicted to suffer strong effects when temperatures go even higher, whereas rich industrialized countries are typically closer to the 'optimal' average temperature and thus show a weaker and more varied response,” wrote Thomas Sterner, an economist at the University of Gothenburg, in an accompanying piece in Nature. Sterner emphasizes that instead of comparing a country’s productivity with other countries’, the researchers compared each country with itself during times of differing temperature for this study.

“If societies continue to function as they have in the recent past, climate change is expected to reshape the global economy by substantially reducing global economic output and possibly amplifying existing global economic inequalities, relative to a world without climate change,” wrote the researchers. In an interview with Marketplace, Burke—the lead researcher—said that he did not believe technological advances would shield countries from these economic losses.

But some experts dispute the claim that there’s an optimal temperature for productivity or that adaptation is not possible. In the paper, the researchers do note the possibility that “unprecedented innovation or defensive investments” might help matters.

Sterner writes that no matter the takeaway of this study, this is an area that needs a lot more attention. This is perhaps particularly relevant on the heels of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s announcement on Wednesday that 2015 is looking to be the hottest year in the historical record. “All told, these estimates equate to much larger economic losses than most leading models suggest,” wrote Sterner. “My feeling is that we are only beginning to understand just how much damage a changed climate can wreak.”

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    Electric Scooters Aren’t a Transportation Revolution Yet

    New data show a staggering rise in shared dockless e-scooter use nationwide. But commuting habits have seen little change since the dawn of micromobility.

  2. a photo of a man surveying a home garage.
    Transportation

    How Single-Family Garages Can Ease California's Housing Crisis

    Given the affordable housing crisis, California cities should encourage single-family homeowners to convert garages into apartments and accessory dwelling units.

  3. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  4. a photo of San Francisco tourists posing before the city's iconic skyline.
    Life

    Cities Don’t Have Souls. Why Do We Battle For Them?

    What do we mean when we say that the “soul of the city” is under threat? Often, it’s really about politics, nostalgia, and the fear of community change.

  5. Maria Romano stands behind one of her three children, Jennifer, 10, as she gets something to eat in their Harlem apartment in New York Thursday, June 3, 2005
    Equity

    Why HUD Wants to Restrict Assistance for Immigrants

    A proposal by Ben Carson’s agency would eject immigrant families from public housing to make way for the "most vulnerable." Housing advocates aren't buying it.