On April 26, EPIC and Becker Friedman Institute Director Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget on the impacts of climate change on public health and our economy.
Testimony by Michael Greenstone
Thank you, Chairman Whitehouse, Ranking Member Grassley, and members of the Committee for inviting me to speak today.
My name is Michael Greenstone, and I am the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and Director of the Becker Friedman Institute and Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. I also serve as co-director of the Climate Impact Lab, a multi-disciplinary collaboration of researchers working to quantify the long-term impacts of climate change. My research focuses on estimating the costs and benefits of societies’ energy and environmental choices.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about the projected health costs of climate change and the impacts of climate change on the broader economy.
Over the last year, the world has been experiencing record hot temperatures: Summer 2022 was the second hottest ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. A weather station in Death Valley, California, clocked a scorching 53°C (127°F) in September, one of the hottest temperatures ever observed on Earth. Officials from Delhi to Tokyo to Baghdad, cities where past heat waves have claimed hundreds of lives, are bracing for dangerously hot periods. And yet, this is nothing new. Year after year heat records are broken all over the world.
Temperature’s toll on public health, particularly the toll from extreme temperatures, is likely to be one of the dominant costs of climate change. Thus, given our ability today to alter the path of temperature change through the release of greenhouse gases, understanding the relationships between temperature change, mortality, and the monetary costs of this mortality, is essential to determining appropriate responses to climate change. So, what impact will temperature have on public health, and how much will it cost? The paper, “Valuing the Global Mortality Consequences of Climate Change Accounting for Adaptation Costs and Benefits” that I authored with my colleagues at the Climate Impact Lab, and which was published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics last year, addresses these critical questions.
I want to emphasize from the outset one data challenge with the paper’s results that is due to the state of climate science. This research produces local (e.g., at the U.S. county level) climate impact estimates and thus requires local projections of what will happen to temperatures in the future. Such climate projections are only available for two climate scenarios: RCP8.5 which is considered a “high-emissions scenario” and RCP4.5 which is considered a “moderate-emissions scenario.” Given current trends and policies, the high-emissions pathway likely overstates the growth of emissions, while the moderate-emissions pathway likely understates it. Throughout the testimony I will present results using both pathways, but the true impacts of climate change from our current trajectory are likely to lie between the estimates based on these two emissions pathways.
More on the hearing can be found at the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget website.