NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Colder Climes Wealthier

September 25, 2001

Having a hard frost every year might explain why the world's wealthiest countries are found mostly in cooler temperate regions rather than in the tropics, say U.S. researchers.

Economists largely hold national institutions, such as systems of law and government, responsible for ongoing poverty in some tropical countries, says economist William Masters of Purdue University. But his analysis of global climate and economic data shows a lack of an annual cycle of warm and cold weather is probably a more important factor.

  • Cold weather kills disease-carrying insects, and also helps keep soil micro-organisms in check, making more nutrients available for use by crops.
  • Therefore people live longer and in better health.
  • Comparing global data on Climate Change with economic data dating back to the early 1960s, the presence of an annual frost emerged as a common denominator between most of the world's wealthiest countries, say Masters and his colleague Margaret McMillan at Tufts University.

The interaction between annual climate change and poverty probably dates back much further into history. The few wealthy countries in tropical regions -- such as Hong Kong and Singapore -- are trade centers that have not depended on their local resources to accumulate wealth, Masters says.

He adds that while the absence of an annual warm-cold weather cycle has certainly not been a barrier to the development of civilization, it remains a key factor in poverty.

Source: Emma Young, "Hard frost key to national wealth," New Scientist, September 21, 2001.


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