How Climate Change Might Affect Outdoor Recreation

WASHINGTON—Recent economic studies have shown that local climate changes can affect the growth rate of national economies, labor supplies, agricultural production, public health, ecological functions, and more. However, comparatively little is known about the effect of changing weather on an aspect of life that is vital to a great many Americans: the opportunity for outdoor leisure activity.

A new study, The Effects of Climate on Leisure Demand: Evidence from North America, posted by Resources for the Future (RFF) provides insight into the future of outdoor recreation.

Authors RFF Fellow Casey J. Wichman and Nathan W. Chan of the University of Massachusetts Amherst analyzed temporally disaggregated data over multiple years for 16 similar bikeshare programs throughout North America, from Mexico City to San Francisco to Montreal. Those high-frequency data involved more than 27 million recreational bicycle trips within 16 North American cities, and were recorded in real time.

Global warming entails a shift of temperature and precipitation that will make hot days and regions even more inhospitable to outdoor activity, holding rainfall constant. However, on the cold end of the distribution, climate change will beget milder conditions, potentially stimulating greater recreation demand.

The researchers estimated the response of outdoor recreation to fluctuations in daily temperature and precipitation. These estimates are combined with time-use survey data and climate model projections to predict likely climate impacts on leisure demand.

According to Dr. Wichman: “Our results suggest that climate change will have a sizable, positive impact on leisure by midcentury.” This includes measurable benefits in North America for enhanced leisure demand. By 2060, climate change will induce economic gains of $20.7 billion annually from increases in time spent recreating outdoors, with gains of nearly $900 million per year for cycling alone.

Read the full report: The Effects of Climate on Leisure Demand: Evidence from North America.

Read the complementary blog: How Will Climate Change Affect Outdoor Recreation?

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