"Heat, Humidity, and Infant Mortality in the Developing World," Dean Spears, University of Texas, Austin, and Executive Director of r.i.c.e.


Thursday, February 22, 2018, 12:30pm to 1:30pm


Guyot 100

Lunch will be served at noon, in Guyot 100. The talk will begin at 12:30p.m.

Among the potential harms of a warmer Earth are its health impacts, as temperatures in some regions advance beyond the human body’s ability to effectively regulate heat, leading to stroke or death. In this paper, we provide the first econometric evidence on the infant and child mortality effects of extreme heat and humidity in the developing world. We diverge from the prior economics literature in utilizing a humidity-indexed measure of temperature, “wet bulb temperature,” which more closely aligns with the physics of evaporative cooling via sweating than the more familiar “dry bulb” temperature. We show: (i) that exposure to a day of mean temperatures above 85F wet bulb—equal to about 100F at 50% humidity—leads to an additional one death per thousand births, an effect that is two orders of magnitude larger than prior estimates arising from studies of adults in the developed world; (ii) that accounting for humidity in this context is of first order importance; and (iii) that these effects are not due to “harvesting” (the speeding up of child deaths that would have occurred in any case), implying significant net life years are lost. Our findings represent an important social cost of climate change that has been overlooked in the types of integrated assessment models used to calculate policy parameters like the optimal carbon tax.

Dean Spears is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, is a visiting economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, and is Executive Director of r.i.c.e., a non-profit organization working in India for better evidence-based policy for human development and children's health.  In addition to Dean's work on climate, population, and environmental health, Dean studies the health and nutrition of children in developing countries and economic demography, especially in India.