Voting with Their Feet: Warmer Is Better

by Marlo Lewis on March 4, 2014

in Features

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From 2007 to 2012, the GDP of Texas grew by 13%, compared to 2.5% for the nation as a whole, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reports. Krugman, however, doesn’t want to give credit to Gov. Rick Perry, the shale boom, or “the more general miracle of free-market capitalism.”

So what explains the Lone Star State’s strong economic performance? Krugman opines:

Partly we’re seeing the continuation of the long-term movement of U.S. population and jobs to the Sunbelt; Ed Glaeser likes to point out that the single best predictor of state growth is the number of winter degree days. On top of that, Texas does do one very important thing right: it has relaxed zoning, which keeps housing abundant and cheap.

In other words, the Texas economy benefits from warm weather and the absence of think-globally, act-locally climate policy — land-use restrictions misleadingly labeled “smart growth.”

In a recent column, Cato Institute scientists Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger find a long-term and accelerating increase in average U.S. experiential temperature — the average temperature Americans experience in their daily lives primarily because of how they vote with their feet.

This map shows population growth rates by state from 1900 to 2010:

Population Change U.S. 1900-2010

This map shows average temperature by state from 1900-2010:

U.S. Annual Temperatures by State 1900-2010

Comparing the two maps “reveals a pretty strong indication that people seem to be seeking out warmer states,” the two scientists write. But they do more than eyeball the relationship, they quantify it. 

Michaels and Knappenberger calculate that the “experiential temperature” of the average person living in the U.S. has increased by about “3.85ºF over the course of the last 114 years (a rate of 0.34ºF per decade).” Key point: Only a small portion of that increase is due to the long-term increase in U.S. average temperature.

U.S. Temperature History Experiential vs Average

Indeed, “experiential” warming exceeds thermometer-measured warming by more than 4 to 1:

Although there has been a slight warm-up of the actual temperature, that rise is nowhere near the increase in the experiential temperature. In fact, the average experiential temperature has climbed at a rate more than four times that of the U. S. average temperature—which is the experiential temperature had the population distribution not changed at all. That means that Americans have actively been moving to warmer climates. And there is every indication that they are continuing to do so, as evidenced by the strong rise in experiential temperatures during the past 20 or 30 years.

Noting that the “overall migration of people into the southern ‘Sunbelt’ states has created a temperature change over time for the ‘average American’ that far outstrips the most pessimistic measurements of global warming for the past century, and rivals the projections for the next,” the two scientists embrace what might be called the U.S. demographic consensus:

Apparently, people–or Americans at least–seem to prefer a warmer climate to a cooler one. Next time climate prognosticators warn of the perils of rising temperatures, remember this: when given the means and a choice, some (or rather, most) like it hot!




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