As The Climate Changes And The Earth Warms, Where's The Safest Place On Earth To Live?

Are there any safe havens? Yes - but it's complicated. Zacarias Pereira da Mata/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 10 Mar 2018, 13:32

Infrastructural damage due to climate change-amplified natural disasters is reaching record highs, and research indicates that higher-than-optimum temperatures reduce workforce output and efficiency – something that’ll directly impact countries’ GDP values. On top of that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate-linked health impacts will cost the world economy up to $4 billion a year by 2030.

The world’s economy will be damaged by worsening climate change. Clearly though, wealthier and resource-rich nations will be able to better withstand such shocks, major though they may be, compared to poorer nations.

So, even with the inherent uncertainty in the pace and potency of these overwhelmingly negative effects of climate change, safety from it all is only likely in a handful of countries – those that currently have mild climates, that are wealthy and resource-rich, that have good healthcare systems, that aren’t politically unstable, and aren’t likely to experience dangerous weather extremes on a regular basis.

That leaves us with a pretty short list, then: Canada, Northern Europe, New Zealand, and perhaps Japan, for example. Wait, what about the Land of the Free – the wealthiest, perhaps most resourceful nation on Earth? Isn’t this a safe haven? Actually, no, not quite.

You can’t simply say that the US is the safest place to live in this sense; any Americans fighting through hurricanes or wildfires can tell you that. Oregon may be somewhat free of climatic extremes, but Florida is constantly threatened by them.

The resource/wealth factor doesn’t just play out on a national level, but a local one too. Poorer parts of wealthy nations suffer more from climate change impacts. As emphasized by a landmark 2017 study, pre-existing inequality will widen as the world continues to warm – even in the US, the world’s sole superpower.

Under a fairly realistic warming scenario, parts of Texas, Florida, and the Deep South will suffer huge economic losses, up to 28 percent of total GDP in some counties, by the end of the century. The region's poorest counties will have their funds bled dry by the rising mercury as agricultural yields shrink, energy costs spike, and mortality rates shoot up.

That same study also predicts that the entire US economy will take a hit overall, but the northwest, where the climate is already far milder, might benefit a little from the changes. Agricultural yields will increase to varying degrees, and, thanks to a lack of weather extremes in general, states like Washington and Montana will be relatively safe, increasingly wealthy places to reside.

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