By Lorraine Woellert

HOW HOT IS IT? — Pickers worked at night to save the cherry crop in Washington. Restaurants shuttered in Vancouver, citing employee safety. Teachers and school bus drivers were sent home. Baggage handlers just couldn’t handle it.

It’s well established that high temperatures can hurt the economy. In addition to the health costs, fires and stress on crops, heat makes workers less productive. One study found that factory employees in India were less likely to show up for work when it’s unusually hot. The big takeaway: Output falls by more than 2 percent for every 1 degree Celsius increase in annual temperature.

Most workplaces in the U.S. have air conditioning, even in the Pacific Northwest. But more than a third of U.S. jobs require outdoor work, and more than 4 percent of workers are required to spend most of their day outside.

And American business relies heavily on foreign labor. So when a heat wave slams factories in India, U.S. companies are hit, too.

“If you have climate control in your workplace, you’re kind of protected from the effects of outdoor heat while you’re at work,” said Anant Sudarshan, co-author of the India report and South Asia director at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “The cost is that you do need climate control in the workplace. You trade off the value of productivity with the cost of electricity.”

To stay competitive, some companies might pick a third option: Abandon the workers.

“Instead of paying an electricity bill, you pay a robot,” Sudarshan said. “The gap between human beings and automation is narrowing anyway. What happens when you dump the heat costs on human beings’ productivity?”

Indian diamond-cutting factories already deploy air conditioning strategically, using it only where skilled labor is required, such as sorting, Sudarshan said. Where machines can do the work, they do.

“A secular increase in temperature is one more reason not to invest in labor,” he said. “That’s going to mean jobs are lost.”

Heat waves are scorching Eastern Europe and Russia, too.

Continue Reading at Politico…

Areas of Focus: Climate Change
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Climate Economics
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