Quantification of the sector-specific financial impacts of historical global warming represents a critical gap in climate change impacts assessment. The multiple decades of county-level data available from the U.S. crop insurance program – which collectively represent aggregate damages to the agricultural sector largely borne by U.S. taxpayers – present a unique opportunity to close this gap. Using econometric analysis in combination with observed and simulated changes in county-level temperature, we show that global warming has already contributed substantially to rising crop insurance losses in the U.S. For example, we estimate that county-level temperature trends have contributed $US2017 23.9 billion – or 17% – of the national-level crop insurance losses over the 1991-2017 period. Further, we estimate that observed warming contributed approximately one third of total losses in the most costly single year (2012). In addition, analyses of a large suite of global climate model simulations yield very high confidence that anthropogenic climate forcing has increased U.S. crop insurance losses. These sector-specific estimates provide important quantitative information about the financial costs of the global warming that has already occurred (including the costs of individual extreme events), as well as the economic value of mitigation and/or adaptation options.
Recent years have witnessed rapid growth in satellite-based approaches to quantifying aspects of land use, especially those monitoring the outcomes of sustainable development programs. Burke et al. reviewed this recent progress with a particular focus on machine-learning approaches and artificial intelligence methods. Drawing on examples mostly from Africa, they conclude that satellite-based methods enhance rather than replace ground-based data collection, and progress depends on a combined approach.
Precipitation extremes have increased in many regions of the United States, suggesting that climate change may be exacerbating the cost of flooding. However, the impact of historical precipitation change on the cost of US flood damages remains poorly quantified. Applying empirical analysis to historical precipitation and flood damages, we estimate that approximately one-third (36%) of the cost of flood damages over 1988 to 2017 is a result of historical precipitation changes.
Recent dramatic and deadly increases in global wildfire activity have increased attention on the causes of wildfires, their consequences, and how risk from wildfire might be mitigated. Here we bring together data on the changing risk and societal burden of wildfire in the United States. We estimate that nearly 50 million homes are currently in the wildland–urban interface in the United States, a number increasing by 1 million houses every 3 y.
Recent dramatic and deadly increases in global wildfire activity have increased attention on the causes of wildfires, their consequences, and how risk from fire might be mitigated. Here we bring together data on the changing risk and societal burden of wildfire in the US. We estimate that nearly 50 million homes are currently in the wildland-urban interface in the US, a number increasing by 1 million houses every 3 years.
Estimation of pollution impacts on health is critical for guiding policy to improve health outcomes. Estimation is challenging, however, because economic activity can worsen pollution but also independently improve health outcomes, confounding pollution–health estimates. We leverage variation in exposure to local particulate matter of diameter <2.5 μm (PM2.5) across Sub-Saharan Africa driven by distant dust export from the Sahara, a source uncorrelated with local economic activity.
Marshall Burke and fellow researchers study productivity in smallholder farms to understand variation across the adbundant but understudied firms. They use a novel framework, satellite data, and machine learning to understand such variation, and they find that output measurement error contributes significantly to this discrepancy in productivity.
Floods and other climate hazards pose a widespread and growing threat to housing and infrastructure around the world. By incorporating climate risk into asset prices, markets can discourage excessive development in hazardous areas. However, the extent to which markets actually price these risks remains poorly understood. Here we measure the effect of information about flood risk on residential property values in the United States.
The advent of multiple satellite systems capable of resolving smallholder agricultural plots raises possibilities for significant advances in measuring and understanding agricultural productivity in smallholder systems. However, since only imperfect yield data are typically available for model training and validation, assessing the accuracy of satellite-based estimates remains a central challenge.
Many mountainous and high‐latitude regions have experienced more precipitation as rain rather than snow due to warmer winter temperatures. Further decreases in the annual snow fraction are projected under continued global warming, with potential impacts on flood risk. Here, we quantify the size of streamflow peaks in response to both seasonal and event‐specific rain‐fraction using stream gage observations from watersheds across the western United States.
Understanding the determinants of agricultural productivity requires accurate measurement of crop output and yield. In smallholder production systems across low- and middle-income countries, crop yields have traditionally been assessed based on farmer-reported production and land areas in household/farm surveys, occasionally by objective crop cuts for a sub-section of a farmer’s plot, and rarely using full-plot harvests. In parallel, satellite data continue to improve in terms of spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution needed to discern performance on smallholder plots.
Efficient responses to climate change require accurate estimates of both aggregate damages and where and to whom they occur. While specific case studies and simulations have suggested that climate change disproportionately affects the poor, large-scale direct evidence of the magnitude and origins of this disparity is lacking. Similarly, evidence on aggregate damages, which is a central input into the evaluation of mitigation policy, often relies on country-level data whose accuracy has been questioned.
Accurate measurements of maize yields at field or subfield scales are useful for guiding agronomic practices and investments and policies for improving food security. Data on smallholder maize systems are currently sparse, but satellite remote sensing offers promise for accelerating learning about these systems. Here we document the use of Google Earth Engine (GEE) to build “wall-to-wall” 10 m resolution maps of (i) cropland presence, (ii) maize presence, and (iii) maize yields for the main 2017 maize season in Kenya and Tanzania.
Understanding the causes of economic inequality is critical for achieving equitable economic development. To investigate whether global warming has affected the recent evolution of inequality, we combine counterfactual historical temperature trajectories from a suite of global climate models with extensively replicated empirical evidence of the relationship between historical temperature fluctuations and economic growth. Together, these allow us to generate probabilistic country-level estimates of the influence of anthropogenic climate forcing on historical economic output.
Millions of people worldwide are absent from their country’s census. Accurate, current, and granular population metrics are critical to improving government allocation of resources, to measuring disease control, to responding to natural disasters, and to studying any aspect of human life in these communities. Satellite imagery can provide sufficient information to build a population map without the cost and time of a government census.
The extent to which armed conflicts—events such as civil wars, rebellions, and interstate conflicts—are an important driver of child mortality is unclear. While young children are rarely direct combatants in armed conflict, the violent and destructive nature of such events might harm vulnerable populations residing in conflict-affected areas. A 2017 review estimated that deaths of individuals not involved in combat outnumber deaths of those directly involved in the conflict, often more than five to one.
Linkages between climate and mental health are often theorized, but remain poorly quantified. In particular, it is unknown whether the rate of suicide, a leading cause of death globally, is systematically affected by climatic conditions. Using comprehensive data from multiple decades for both the United States and Mexico, we find that suicide rates rise 0.7% in US counties and 2.1% in Mexican municipalities for a 1 °C increase in monthly average temperature. This effect is similar in hotter versus cooler regions and has not diminished over time, indicating limited historical adaptation.
Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are anticipated to decrease the zinc and iron concentrations of crops. The associated disease burden and optimal mitigation strategies remain unknown. We sought to understand where and to what extent increasing carbon dioxide concentrations may increase the global burden of nutritional deficiencies through changes in crop nutrient concentrations, and the effects of potential mitigation strategies.
Large and regular seasonal price fluctuations in local grain markets appear to offer African farmers substantial inter-temporal arbitrage opportunities, but these opportunities remain largely unexploited: small-scale farmers are commonly observed to "sell low and buy high" rather than the reverse. In a field experiment in Kenya, we show that credit market imperfections limit farmers' abilities to move grain inter-temporally.
Crop yields in smallholder systems are traditionally assessed using farmer-reported information in surveys, occasionally by crop cuts for a sub-section of a farmer's plot, and rarely using full-plot harvests. Accuracy and cost vary dramatically across methods. In parallel, satellite data is improving in terms of spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution needed to discern performance on smallholder plots.
Accurate measurements of crop production in smallholder farming systems are critical to the understanding of yield constraints and, thus, setting the appropriate agronomic investments and policies for improving food security and reducing poverty. Nevertheless, mapping the yields of smallholder farms is challenging because of factors such as small field sizes and heterogeneous landscapes.
The emergence of satellite sensors that can routinely observe millions of individual smallholder farms raises possibilities for monitoring and understanding agricultural productivity in many regions of the world. Here we demonstrate the potential to track smallholder maize yield variation in western Kenya, using a combination of 1-m Terra Bella imagery and intensive field sampling on thousands of fields over 2 y.