Ron Johnson Says Climate Change Is ‘Beneficial’

Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin touted the “beneficial” aspects of climate change while tussling with an energy policy expert during a Senate Budget Committee hearing.

Johnson questioned Dr. Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, during the hearing on Wednesday. The senator took issue with the findings of a study that Greenstone had recently co-authored, arguing that Americans should “take comfort” in global warming.

Greenstone’s paper, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics last year, focused on the economic impacts of climate change causing a projected 85 excess global deaths per 100,000 people every year by 2100.

The study also found that although deaths would increase in some parts of the U.S. and the country would “incur adaptation costs amounting to 10 death equivalents per 100,000,” there would be 0.2 fewer overall U.S. deaths per 100,000 people by 2100.

Ron Johnson Climate Change Senate Republicans Wisconsin
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is pictured during a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C., on September 14, 2021. Johnson on Wednesday argued that the effects of climate change would be “very favorable” for his home state.
Drew Angerer

Johnson said that he did not “put any stock in” the projections of Greenstone’s study before arguing that it had shown climate change was “pretty good” for the U.S. and an overall positive since it would lead to warming in cold areas like Wisconsin.

“In terms of excess deaths, a warming globe’s actually beneficial,” Johnson said. “In my own state, your study shows that we would have a reduction in mortality of somewhere between 54 and 56 people per, I guess, it’s 100,000. Why wouldn’t we take comfort in that?”

Greenstone said that “the effects of climate change are going to be very unequal” while responding to Johnson.

“Absolutely, [in] Wisconsin, Chicago, where I live, the reduction in cold days, the benefits from that will outweigh the damages from the hot days,” Greenstone said. “But if you look more carefully at that, there’s large swatches of the country where the damages will be much larger. And in fact …”

Johnson then interrupted Greenstone as he attempted to tell the senator that he was “misreading the results” of his study. Johnson then brought up an unrelated study while arguing that heating the planet put global health “in a better position.”

“In terms of global health, in terms of excess death, we’re actually in a better position to prevent death by having the climate increase in temperature a little bit,” Johnson argued.

Greenstone said that he was “not familiar” with the study that Johnson had cited, arguing that the senator’s “characterization” of his own study was “incorrect.” Johnson countered that Greenstone’s study was “very favorable to my state.”

“Wisconsin will benefit in terms of mortality,” Greenstone responded. “There are 49 other states in the United States. Many of them will suffer. Many of them will suffer more than Wisconsin will gain. And that is the nature of climate change, it’s very unequal.”

“According, to your study,” Johnson shot back. “[There is] concern if you’re in the really hot region of Africa. But in terms of United States and most of Europe, we’re in pretty good shape … We have reduced risk of death.”

Greenstone’s study did highlight that unequal projected impacts of climate change could be beneficial in certain areas. For example, the study pointed that warming would cause 160 excess deaths per 100,000 people annually in Accra, Ghana, while saving 150 lives per 100,000 people in Berlin, Germany.

However, the overall takeaway of the study was that the cost of climate change would be felt around the world, with the entire planet suffering an average of 85 deaths more deaths per 100,000 people every year, which, based on the current global population of approximately 8 billion, would translate to 6.8 million more annual deaths.

Newsweek has reached out via email to the office of Johnson for comment.

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