Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the U.S.

From the Risky Business Project, “Heat in the Heartland” details how extreme heat from unmitigated climate change could transform the Midwest's communities and economy. This assessment defines the range of potential economic consequences on agriculture and businesses, as well as discusses the related impacts on labor productivity, livestock, energy use, public health, crime, fresh water supply and tourism. The report concludes that the most severe risks can still be avoided through early investments in resilience and immediate action to mitigate global warming.

Considering the implications of climate change impacts on Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin, the assessment finds that the Midwestern U.S. faces potential serious disruptions to its agricultural economy. Without significant adaptation on the part of Midwest farmers, the region’s agricultural sector is likely to suffer yield losses and economic damages as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change. Overall crop yields will likely decline, potentially shifting growing patterns for major commodity crops to the north and putting individual farming communities at risk.

The research focused on specific climate impacts changes in heat and precipitation - and their interaction with the three major commodity crops found in the Midwest (corn, soybeans, and wheat) as well as their impact on livestock production and the effectiveness of the agricultural labor force. The most direct climate impact on Midwest agriculture is due to the likely increases in heat across the region.

While this plan primarily analyzes impacts to industry, it also describes a number of trends that have social equity implications. For each major Midwestern urban area, it assesses how climate change is likely to increase energy demand and costs, lead to rises in violent crime, decrease labor productivity (especially among outdoor workers), and result in more heat-related deaths.


The report also provides new data by metropolitan region, providing the likely impacts climate change will have across the Midwest's many interconnected cities, towns and counties.  According to the assessment, climate change will increase the incidence of extreme heat in the region’s ten major metropolitan areas, particularly in the southernmost cities like St. Louis, Des Moines and Indianapolis. Significant public health and safety risks are a concern, through higher heat-related mortality, increased electricity demand and energy costs, and declines in labor productivity.

However, the study also shows that the Midwest can still avoid the worst impacts of a changing climate if it works to mitigate climate change. The report discusses three general areas of action that can help to minimize the risks Midwest businesses currently face from climate change:

- Changing everyday business practices to become more resilient
- Incorporating risk assessment into capital expenditures and balance sheets
- Instituting policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change

If “the region chooses a different path - if state and regional policymakers and business leaders act aggressively to adapt to the changing climate and also to mitigate future impacts by reducing their own carbon emissions - the Midwest can demonstrate to our national and global political leaders the kind of strong response that is necessary to reduce the worst future economic risks from climate change.”

"Heat in the Heartland" is the second report from the Risky Business Project. The Project first released "Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change to the United States" which highlighted climate risks across every region of the country, with a focus on three sectors: agriculture, energy demand, and coastal infrastructure. 

The Risky Business Project is a joint partnership of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Paulson Institute, and TomKat Charitable Trust. All three organizations provided substantive staff input to the Risky Business Project over the past 18 months, and supported the underlying independent research for this project. Additional financial support for this Midwest-specific report was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and the McKnight Foundation.


Publication Date: January 23, 2015


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