Delivering access to reliable and affordable energy, while minimizing its social and environmental impacts, including those created by our changing climate, is one of society’s most complex challenges.
Asst. Prof. Amir Jina focuses his research on the role of the environment and environmental change in the shaping how societies develop. He combines methods from climate science and remote sensing to understand the impacts of climate in both rich and poor countries.
A founding member of the Climate Impact Lab—an interdisciplinary collaboration examining the socioeconomic impacts of climate change around the world—recently with Harris Public Policy to discuss his work.
Talk a little about climate change’s significance beyond environmental impact.
We are at a stage with the science and knowledge that most of the details about climate change are broadly known. There are many nuances—for example, how will disaster risk change or what parts of the planet will warm at faster rates—but we basically understand that the planet is warming, and we are now investing in the research and technology to mitigate and manage that.
The socioeconomic side of the issue, however, is less understood. What I’m trying to do—with the help of other economic and climate experts from across the country—is build a foundation of evidence and use relevant data to understand the relationship between climate and society. The effects of heat on worker productivity or suicide surges following crop losses or increases in crime and incarceration rates, for instance. There are countless impacts that can be uncovered, quantified and used strategically to inform development and investment.
Are there specific regions of the U.S. that should brace themselves more for economic hardship than others as a result of climate change?
One of the most surprising findings our research uncovered was the significant regional disparities in terms of responding and adapting to the effects of climate change. We know that places with lower average incomes are suffering more than their affluent neighbors and because U.S. counties in the South are, on average, poorer than counties in the North, their ability to manage the impact of climate change is tenuous. The fact that they face hotter temperatures on a more regular basis further exacerbates risk. In the North, rising temperatures are positive for things like better health. In the South, enhanced hurricanes and rising sea level caused by a hotter climate creates a perfect storm from which these communities may not be able to recover.
And what about the impact of climate change globally? Especially in poorer countries, like India?
This one is hard—the richness of data that is available in wealthy countries is often not there in poorer ones. To understand the true impact, we had to think about how to capture data on a majority of countries who are the poorest and most vulnerable. We began to see a very similar pattern to what we found in the U.S.—that poorer countries, especially tropical countries, fared much worse than wealthier countries who were able to invest in adaptation, like purchasing air conditioning or having better health infrastructure—things which have the effect of mitigating the negative impacts of climate change on the economy.