HKS Authors

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Human actions can alter the local and regional climate, particularly via land use. We assess the impact of the Great Plains Shelterbelt, a large-scale forestation program in the 1930s across six US Midwestern states that is comparable to contemporary tree-planting efforts. This program led to a regional increase in precipitation and decrease in temperature, with impacts persisting for several decades. The change in climate extended to adjacent unforested land up to 200km away—inducing economic spillovers and enabling us to directly study climate adaptation. In downwind places now facing more favorable growing conditions, crop yields increased by 11-22%. Farmers adapted, switching to more water-intensive production. Due to adaptation, yield increases were up to 120% larger than predictions based on improved weather conditions only. This paper highlights the endogeneity risk in using spatial variation in climate trends in estimating climate damages, as well as the potential for tree planting to regionally mitigate climate change impacts.


Grosset, Florian, Anna Papp, and Charles A. Taylor. "Rain Follows the Forest: Land Use Policy, Climate Change, and Adaptation." May 2023.