Deforestation-related warming reduces productivity of rural workers

Article: Masuda, Y.J., Garg, T., Anggraeni, I. et al. Warming from tropical deforestation reduces worker productivity in rural communities. Nat Commun 12, 1601 (2021).

Above picture: Forested areas converted to palm oil plantations on Borneo. Source: Wikipedia.

Global warming is happening as we speak. There is little doubt of this. More research is emerging every day on its various effects – we are learning more and more about just how consequential global warming is being and can still be.

One of the challenges of effectively studying and managing global warming is that it is a multi-faceted, deeply interconnected process. Though there certainly are notable standout effects (like rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice), there are also numerous domino effects of the central culprit of rising temperatures.

The brunt of these effects are being felt, and likely will continue to be felt, disproportionately heavily by poorer people, less urbanized people, and those living in more tropical regions.

A recent article in the journal Nature Communications discusses one such example, that of rural workers in Indonesia.

The researchers worked in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, located on the island of Borneo. A highly biodiverse region, Borneo has seen large-scale deforestation in the last few decades. As a result, many parts of the island and province are completely denuded.

Wanting to investigate the effects of deforestation on a rural population that worked largely outdoors, the researchers divided willing participants evenly and randomly into two groups. Both groups did identical tasks, and all participants were healthy and able-bodied. One group worked in forested areas, while the other worked in a deforested area.

The results showed that those working in deforested areas had an average of 8.22% lower productivity compared to those working in forested areas. The temperature in the deforested areas was also nearly 3 degrees C higher than the nearby forested areas.

Those working in the deforested areas also took more frequent breaks, and when asked, reported that it was due to their knowledge of the adverse effects of heat on their bodies. Furthermore, those working in the deforested areas were also more likely to report slower pace or work and lower quality of work due to the increased heat.

Though the results of this study seems logical and in line with common-sense knowledge, it is important to scientifically demonstrate the effects of elevated heat and deforestation on human productivity, especially with increased awareness of the ill effects of excessive heat. As much of human economic activity (particularly in rural, poorer and tropical regions) occurs outside, forest conservation and restoration can have a profound effect on human productivity.

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Munim Deen

Munim is an epidemiologist and cartographer. His primary interests are infectious disease outbreaks and their intersection with the environment, public policy, and society at large. A geographic information system (GIS) devotee, he incorporates mapping and spatial analysis into his work whenever possible. A former newspaper columnist, he holds a bachelor's degree in microbiology and a master's degree in epidemiology.

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