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Salon reports only one piece of climate change report, but not piece that negates it

Salon reports [1] that the poor will suffer from the heat waves of climate change. Salon also fails to tell us that the poor will no longer be poor when the heat waves arrive – the very economic growth which causes the heat waves is also what stops people from being poor.

This is a common mistake in thinking about climate change. All of the models used to calculate the effect on temperature include changes in the size of the economy at the same time. So, yes, temperatures will change in the models – but so does how rich the people are the temperature changes happen to.

The effect of this is to make this worry somewhat wrong: “ The world’s poorest bear the burden of heat — and it’s getting worse.” Well, no. The poor are getting richer faster than the temperature is rising. So the problem is getting smaller, not worse.

“As temperatures climb with climate change, the world’s poorest will increasingly take the brunt of the heat, according to a new study in the journal Earth’s Future. Lower-income countries are already 40 percent more likely to experience heat waves than those with higher incomes. The researchers expect this disparity to widen in the coming decades.

“By 2100, the study says…”

No, not really, because by 2100 there won’t be any poor people. The poor are right here, right now, and the future won’t have any. The secret is in this from the actual paper itself [2]: “model simulations with a moderate SSP2-4.5 scenario.” Yes, that’s boring jargon, but we can look it up at the United Nations: ”Gross Domestic Product (GDP) follows regional historical trends (Dellink et al., 2015). With global average income reaching about 60 (thousand year-2005 USD/capita, purchasing-power-parity – PPP, i.e., GDP/capita) by the end of the century, “

Again that’s more jargon but it’s easy to translate. The whole world will be about as rich as the United States is today, richer than the US was in 2005. So, there won’t be any poor people in poor countries to suffer so dreadfully from those heatwaves. They’ll suffer the same problems we do in summer, solved by the A/C.

Salon ranks as No. 73 in the “law and government” sector and gains some 8 million visits a month. As an outlet for progressives, it would be worth it getting its reporting right. Climate change will indeed cause problems, but afflicting the poor who will no longer exist isn’t one of them.

Sure, it can sound glib to say that people in 2100 will just flip the A/C to deal with the heat and it might even be that little bit glib. But there is a very important point here, one that journalists and even Salon need to be clear on. Climate change is, in all the models, a result of economic growth happening. So, sure we can look at the effects of the warming but we’ve also got to include the effects of the world getting richer – because that’s what causes the warming. So, worrying about the effect of increased heat is fine – worrying about the effect on the poor who will no longer exist isn’t.

That’s one of the important things about all of these climate change models. Yes, they show rising temperatures. They also show the abolition of poverty this century.