Climate Change Will Affect Labor Capacity Significantly In Future
February 25, 2013

Climate Change Will Affect Labor Capacity Significantly In Future

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Climate change may be somewhat of a philosophical or political debate, but according to a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the debate may soon become a financial one, as well.

Workers who labor without the benefit of air conditioning have already seen the amount of work they can do in the worst heat cut by about 10 percent in the past six decades due to rising temperatures, according to NOAA´s report in Nature Climate Change. The researchers warned the loss in labor capacity could double by 2050.

“The planet will start experiencing heat stress that´s unlike anything experienced today,” co-author Ronald Stouffer, a physical scientist at NOAA´s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, said in a Business Week interview. “The world is entering a very different environment and the impact on labor will be significant.”

To figure out the stress of working in hotter conditions, the NOAA scientists looked at military and industrial guidelines that cover those who work outdoors, including for people who work at night and in the shade. The team then measured those guidelines against climate projections for the next century.

"We project that heat stress-related labor capacity losses will double globally by 2050 with a warming climate," co-author John Dunne, a NOAA scientist who also leads the Biochemistry, Ecosystems and Climate Group at Princeton University, told HuffPost.

Dunne added that a more extreme, but plausible, warming scenario of an additional 11 degrees Fahrenheit would make it difficult to work during the summer months in many parts of the world.

“Extreme projections of global warming of (11 degrees) eliminates all labor capacity in the hottest months in many areas, including the lower Mississippi Valley, and exposes most of the U.S. east of the Rockies to heat stress beyond anything experienced in the world today,” Dunne said, adding workers without air conditioning would need to rest 75 percent of the time in these conditions.

He said the best way to mitigate any potential impact on labor capacity would be to limit global warming to less than 5 degrees.

According to NOAA data, last year´s average temperature was just over 58 degrees, making it the 10th warmest year since 1880. It was also the 36th straight year to reach an above average temperature mark. Since pre-industrial times, the average global temperature has risen by about 1.2 degrees F and NOAA scientists said they expect it to rise by an additional 1.8 degrees F by mid-century.

“This effort changes the scope of the climate-change debate by putting the direct human impact in practical terms,” Dunne said. “It relates to anyone working without the benefit of air conditioning and would be a minimum estimate of heat stress for anyone working in an elevated heat environment, such as a kitchen or furnace.”

Currently, many laborers around the world cope with heat stress by taking a break, or siesta, during the hottest hours of the day. Some companies or government work forces shift their outdoor jobs into the evening hours when temperatures make for a more productive environment.