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Exactly How Much Has Global Warming Exacerbated Global Economic Inequality?

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Smoke stacks at Pacificorp’s 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant, pictured on October 9th, 2017, outside Huntington, Utah.

The global climate system is exceedingly complex. Every year, new reports force us to rethink our existing climate knowledge. The United Nations recently found that, even if countries meet their Paris Agreement targets, the Arctic could still warm nine degrees Celsius by 2100.

Climate change is already happening. Though we will likely never be able to quantify all the ways that climate change has affected our lives—and, indeed, it’s all probably worse than we think—researchers at Stanford University recently quantified the extent to which global warming has already slowed the economic growth of warmer countries, thereby making it harder to close the global wealth gap.

Using historical data, the researchers report that, “although between-country inequality has decreased over the past half-century, there is a 90 percent likelihood that global warming has slowed that decrease.” Hot days already decrease productivity in poorer, hotter countries, but when exacerbated by anthropogenic global warming, that effect becomes more pronounced, the team has found. Meanwhile, they report that the richer, more temperate countries, which are causing most of the warming, have gotten off scot-free in an economic sense—and may even be benefiting from the warming.

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