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Friday, 24 June 2011


The colder you are, the richer you are.  The top map is world temperatures in 2007, and the bottom is GDP per person in 2006.

There are exceptions, of course.  But they only go to prove the rule: the exceptions are hot places that are rich just because of natural resources (Saudi Arabia), or because they were very recently colonised by people from cold places (Australia).

We are tropical animals, so this seems strange.  Surely, we would expect, our natural environment should be the one in which we should be the most productive?  But the reverse is the case.

Those of us in the cold world carry a couple of millimeters of the tropics around with us all the time in the form of our clothes, and this gives us a clue.

Also, hot India is in the process of becoming rich, as is multi-climated China.  Both are following on the heels of the now-rich  Far East, which is also hot.  Wherever the hot world becomes cold by the introduction of air conditioning, wealth follows.

The minimum you need to survive in a cold climate is food and shelter.  But the minimum you need to survive in a hot climate is just food.

People have not evolved to be productive.  Evolution doesn't care a hoot about GDP.  People have evolved to survive with the minimum of effort in their natural environment.  Out of it, they have to work harder.  We don't need much in hot places, so we don't work hard there.  The greater wealth in cold places is just a by-product of people needing to keep active and needing to be inventive to keep warm.

It is no accident that the Industrial Revolution was started by the manufacture of those millimeter-thicknesses of the tropics in a cold country.


Sarastro said...

I can't help thinking there is an element here of 'making facts fit the argument'...

Firstly, I would say, as someone living in a very hot climate (high of 47C forecast today), that perhaps it wasn't the air conditioning that made the locals wealthy, but it may have been the first thing they bought when they became so. I would have done the same.

Certainly, shelter in a hot climate is as important as shelter in a cold one - our local doctors advise burn times, even for the lucky ones who have a Mediterranean type of colouring, to be in the minutes, not hours, until about September. No-one works outside - or even ventures outside - for very large chunks of the day.

I suspect you may be on to something, since there is clearly some sort of correlation between productivity and environment, but I would suggest that something else is at play here... perhaps we as a species are making less happily inhabitable places more so, and are then moving to take the resources?

Adrian Bowyer said...

There is much in what you say, and indeed one needs shelter from the sun. But look at the work and money that goes into building a house in Trondheim compared with that that goes into building a house in Tel Aviv. The latter is simply cheaper - keeping heat in is harder than keeping light (and UV and IR) out.

Sarastro said...

Perhaps we could strive for a more egalitarian world through the application of widely varying building regulations :)

Make it much more difficult to build a house in, say, Gaza, than - oh wait...

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