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Adapting to the Weather: Lessons from U.S. History

  • Hoyt Bleakley (a1) and Sok Chul Hong (a2)

An important unknown in understanding the impact of climate change is the scope of adaptation, which requires observations on historical time scales. We consider how weather across U.S. history (1860–2000) has affected various measures of productivity. Using cross-sectional and panel methods, we document significant responses of agricultural and individual productivity to weather. We find strong effects of hotter and wetter weather early in U.S. history, but these effects have generally been attenuated in recent decades. The results suggest that estimates from a given period may be of limited use in forecasting the longer-term impacts of climate change.

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We have benefited from comments and suggestions from Michael Greenstone, Paul Rhode, Wolfram Schlenker, Richard Steckel, Gary Libecap, Daniel Hamermesh, William Collins, and two anonymous referees, and from the participants in the workshops at the University of Chicago, UIUC, and Queen's University, Sogang University, Korea University, and Seoul National University, and in the seminars at NBER Universities' Research Conference, the American Economic Association Annual Meetings, and World Economic History Congress. Research reported in this article was supported by NIH grant number P01 AG10120 and the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2011-327-B00079).

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