Global Warming and (My) Productivity

Reporting on the results of an unexpected experiment … with unexpectedly global implications.

After 20 years in the same house in Northern California, we installed whole-house air conditioning earlier this year. It seems that most of the apartments here have it, but not too many single family homes. Somehow the weather seemed to have gotten hotter, or perhaps we got older and less tolerant of heat, but it seemed like a good idea.

As new AC user, I’d start the thermostat on the warm side (“come on, I could work from home in the summer just fine without AC for many years”) and gradually move it lower. Now we seem to have found a good spot setting it at 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the hallway (my office is often slightly warmer).

While learning what temperature we prefer, I noticed a directly observable effect of temperature on my productivity:

  • Up to 75 degrees: perfect productivity, no issues
  • Up to 77 degrees: not bad, but I’m not as full of energy
  • Above 77 degrees: definite impact on my ability to form and sustain complex lines of thought. It feels like my short-term memory isn’t as big, and what I can hold in my head doesn’t last as long. Also, I get tired faster.

The effect is definitely reproduceable, and has been observed often enough independently of other effects so I’m quite confident in this observation. (And surprised at the narrow range of temperatures from good to bad!)

As a business owner, I have to say that the hourly wage of the guy at 78 degrees (me) ought to be significantly lower than that of the guy at 75 degrees (also me), simply by looking at the quantity and quality of the results that I’m getting myself.

One obvious conclusion: if you work in an office that’s sometimes above 77 degrees (or getting there and you can’t wear extremely casual clothing as I do), your employer is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Install / turn on AC now! Given that solar energy is strongly correlated with temperature and AC use, and solar panels are now everywhere, this is not as big an environmental transgression as it used to be.

The scarier conclusion is this: Here is a set of maps from this study that shows the areas in the world where temperatures are becoming higher than the threshold at which climate becomes deadly (!), and how often per year that happens under different climate modeling scenarios.

It may have been hot in my office before we had AC, but it was a long way from being a deadly temperature!

There is a line between my 77 degree threshold from where my productivity seriously starts to decline, to those points on the map where I would actually die without articificial cooling.

In between those two points is reduced productivity, and because it affects everybody in a region, reduced GDP.

Given that all hell breaks loose in an economy if it declines as little as a few percent — compare this with the fact that red on this map means “deadly more than half of all days of the year” — do I need to spell it out what will happen, and in fact is happening already?

Anybody surprised at global migration? Low productivity in certain “shithole countries”?

So what are we all going to do about it? Not sure how long “but I now have AC in rich Northern California” will cut it even here.



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