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Study: Climate Change Will Bring Heat To N.H. That Hurts Outdoor Workers And Wages

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Scott Lewis
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Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Extreme heat will likely begin to threaten New Hampshire’s outdoor workers and their millions of dollars in earnings in the next few decades because of climate change, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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Historically, summer days with a feels-like temperature above 90 or 100 – a combination of heat and humidity – were vanishingly rare in New Hampshire. But by mid-century, within the working lives of people starting in the labor force today, that will change.

The new analysis builds on a 2019 heat study from the nonprofit, which found that with slow action on climate change, New Hampshire will go from its historical norm of 3 days a year with a heat index over 90, to 16 a year by 2050. The state already saw several days this hot in 2021.

The new Concerned Scientists study says that mid-century increase will give New Hampshire at least one day a year with the kind of heat that prompts federal labor and health agencies to call for safety precautions or a stop to work in outdoor jobs.

The “slow action” track is roughly what the world is doing now, according to the United Nations climate science report released last week. It said a temperature increase of about 2.7°F is now essentially guaranteed by 2050, with worse outcomes to follow if emissions don’t decline.

The study says nearly 20% of New Hampshire’s labor force holds jobs that tend to require at least some work outside, totaling 133,000 people earning a combined $4.9 million a year.

Many outdoor jobs tend to earn less than the national average, the study says, and they are most often held by Black and Latino men across the country.

The largest share of New Hampshire’s outdoor workers, at 27%, are in construction fields. Most of the rest hold jobs such as janitors, buildings and grounds staff, delivery drivers and electrical workers. Emergency responders, foresters, farmers and truck drivers round out the list.

Without more action on climate change, by the end of the 21st century, the study says the next generation of these outdoor workers in New Hampshire could face up to a week of days per year that threaten their health or their wages.

Even one day of dangerous heat would cost these workers $17 million, or roughly $100-$200 per person on average, according to the study. The nonprofit notes the way that many people have lived paycheck to paycheck during the COVID-19 pandemic, a sign that any loss can be harmful.

“The income losses due to extreme heat would add to the economic burden on households already stretched thin,” the study says.

The Concerned Scientists say state and local governments should implement more plans and policies to protect outdoor workers from dangerous heat, including clearer requirements for when work should stop, and tools to recognize and deal with heat-related illness on the job.

Long-term, they say, climate change may necessitate big changes to how and when work happens outside – even in northern states like New Hampshire.

“At the same time, pandemic-related changes such as the increased reliance on food and product-delivery services could expand ... the number of workers exposed to extreme heat,” the study says. “Without attention to justice and equity, such changes will fall especially hard on the working class.”

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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