Climate change is real, and its long-term impact threatens the economic structure of the Midwest.
That’s the conclusion of a vast majority of climate scientists, data-driven environmental organizations and responsible elected officials fighting a rising tide of irresponsible denial. It’s also the verdict of a group of bipartisan business and political leaders who are aligned with the Risky Business Project on climate change.
Two of those leaders, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson and Cargill Executive Chairman Gregory Page, met with the Star Tribune Editorial Board last week to present the project’s newly released study, “Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the Midwest.”
The study’s conclusions are sobering. Among the many data-driven predictions is that given current emissions, extreme heat will significantly impact Midwestern agriculture, manufacturing and cities — in short, its economic base. This is especially true in the southern portion of the Midwest.
By the end of this century, Missourians may experience as many extremely hot days as Arizonans have in recent years. And Minnesota won’t be spared. In the same time frame, the average summer temperature here may be hotter than Washington, D.C., is now.
The agricultural impact could change the character of the region. In the near term, five to 25 years, unless there is significant adaptation by farmers, some Missouri, Illinois and Indiana counties may experience commodity crop losses of 18 percent to 24 percent annually due to extreme heat. And by the end of the century, unless there’s a change in the current emissions path, there may be overall agricultural losses for corn and wheat of 11 percent to 69 percent. (Minnesota, however, may be able to “double crop” due to a longer growing season.)
The Midwest is also a major manufacturing hub, and that sector, too, will face significant challenges. The report states that energy use per dollar of GDP in the Midwest is already 20 percent higher than the national average. Higher temperatures will spike energy use, which will further impact the region’s competitiveness. And hotter weather will also reduce labor productivity.
A much more troubling change in human behavior is an anticipated rise in violent crime rates due to heat. The biggest projected jump in the region is in the Twin Cities metro area, where violent crime could rise 6.4 percent by the end of the century.
Another threat to the distinctive character of the Midwest — and especially to Minnesota — is a potential dramatic decline in winter sports. This isn’t only a recreational and cultural issue, but also a business risk, because of the importance of the skiing and snowmobiling industries in the Midwest.
The study also assessed additional climate risks specific to the Midwest, including precipitation, water quality, Great Lakes impact, risks to critical infrastructure, and risks to national and global supply chains.
Midwesterners are prudent, practical people. Many will be willing to adapt an agribusiness or manufacturing processes to mitigate the risks and impact from climate change. These adaptations are not inconsequential; in fact, they are necessary additions to any legislative action.
There’s a clear need for a national, as well as a global, response to climate change. And that response should be led by the United States.
America’s elected officials should think, and act, like the practical, bipartisan leaders of the Risky Business Project. First, lawmakers should craft an effective U.S. response to the challenge posed by the threat. Then they should work to get global consensus on a coordinated strategy.
Politics aside, acting responsibly on climate change is conservative, in both the classic sense of conservation, but also in mitigating risk to America’s economic and even security posture. Indeed, it’s notable that another group deeply concerned about climate change is the Pentagon.
For the most part, Democrats in Congress acknowledge the scientific consensus. Unfortunately, many of their Republican counterparts do not, and most of the GOP’s 2016 presidential prospects have expressed skepticism, at best.
The bipartisan nature of the Risky Business group is one of the reasons to be hopeful for its efficacy, but only if the business leaders make their responsible voices heard above the din of partisan politics.