Working Paper

Voluntary Exposure Benefits and the Costs of Climate Change

Oct 2, 2017 | Benjamin Leard, Kevin Roth

Summary

Warmer, wetter weather may lead to an increase in traffic injuries and fatalities unless interventions are put in place to adapt to these changing conditions.

Key Findings

  • Warmer temperatures and reduced snowfall are associated with a significant increase in fatal traffic accidents.
  • However, almost all of the estimated effect of temperature on fatalities is due to changes in exposure for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
  • The application of these results to middle-of-the-road climate predictions suggests that weather patterns for the end of the century would lead to 381 additional fatalities per year.
  • The associated welfare losses, however, are almost completely offset by voluntary exposure benefits from increased travel by walking, biking, and motorcycling.

Abstract

We identify behavioral responses, defined as “voluntary exposure benefits,” that have the potential to offset measured costs of climate change. We quantify these responses for the transportation sector. We find warmer temperatures and reduced snowfall are associated with an increase in fatal accidents. While the application of these results to climate predictions suggests that weather patterns for the end of the century would lead to 381 additional fatalities per year, the associated welfare losses are almost completely offset by voluntary exposure benefits from increased traveling. Our results motivate carefully examining behavioral mechanisms to accurately estimate the welfare effects of climate change.