Economics Senior David Wigglesworth's “Crop Production and Climate Change: The Importance of Temperature Variability” selected as one of four finalists for the International Atlantic Economic Society’s 15th annual Best Undergraduate Paper Competition. Climate change is undoubtedly among the most important and pressing issues of our time, and temperature is one of the most important aspects of climate. Huge attention has been given to changes in temperature levels, in particular the nature and pattern of the upward trend in average temperatures. Much less attention, however, has been given to temperature's variability, in particular its monthly range, the difference between monthly maximum and minimum temperatures.
The temperature range has been trending downward in many regions. From one perspective, this may have negative effects on social welfare. In particular, the upward trend in average daily temperature, together with the downward trend in its range, corresponds to temperature that is not only trending upward but also less variable around that trend. Hence heat is becoming harder to avoid, even at night, with potential negative consequences. Recent studies, for example, link decreased temperature range to increased stroke incidence.
One would naturally conjecture that temperature range may also have important indirect effects on social welfare via its effects on economic activity, particularly its effects on agricultural production, but there has been little research. Wigglesworth contributes by estimating an agricultural production function that includes both temperature average and range, as well as various control variables, using a panel of the 48 contiguous U.S. states from 1960 onward. Notably, he shows that the downward trend in temperature range may have a positive effect on social welfare, as it promotes increased agricultural output due to its promotion of a longer and more stable growing season.
Wigglesworth’s results point to an important and underappreciated aspect of climate change, namely its highly-heterogeneous impact on different people, industries, and regions.