Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the Midwest

Kate Gordon, Matthew Lewis, and Fiona Kinniburgh
Posted on: 1/11/2016 - Updated on: 3/29/2021

Posted by

Tera Johnson



The mission of the Risky Business Project is to quantify the economic risks to the U.S. from unmitigated climate change. Our inaugural report, Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, 3 highlighted these risks across every region of the country, with a focus on three sectors: agriculture, energy demand, and coastal infrastructure. We also looked at overarching issues such as changes in labor productivity, heat-related mortality, and crime. This follow-up report, Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the Midwest, zeros in on the Midwest and offers a first step toward defining the range of potential economic consequences to this particular region if we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway.

Our research combines state-of-the-art climate science projections through the year 2100 (and beyond in some cases) with empirically-derived estimates of the impact of projected changes in temperature and precipitation on the Midwest economy. We analyze not only those outcomes most likely to occur, but also lower-probability, higher-cost climate futures. These are the “tail risks,” most often expressed here as the 1-in-20 chance something will occur. Unlike any other study to date, we look at climate impacts at a very geographically granular level, in some cases providing county-level results.

Our findings show that if we stay on our current emissions path, the Midwest will likely experience significant economic impacts from climate change. These changes are both negative and positive, varying greatly from the southern to the northern parts of the region. However, 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.


Document Type
Sociopolitical Setting
Target Climate Changes and Impacts