Should We Worry About Global Warming?

The Benefits of Atmospheric Warming

 

The Problem

"At stake is nothing less than the survival of human civilization and the habitability of the earth for our species."

A. Gore

If you believe today's press, nearly all the world's respectable scientists believe that mankind is causing the atmosphere to warm, and the temperature increase will lead to disastrous consequences for animals and man.  Furthermore, only we can "save the planet", by costly methods and by putting our environment ahead of the interests of man himself.  Could it be possible that rising atmospheric temperatures are good for humanity?  Over the earth's history, the climate has always changed, warming and cooling. At the present time, we are in a slow warming trend overlain by constant temperatures for the last decade. Reason tells us that atmospheric warming is better than atmospheric cooling, because it is easier to adapt to warmer temperatures than to cooler ones. In the light of reason, the quote above from Mr. Gore is absurd.

A review of the planet's history

The earth has been warming for at least the last 12,000 years since the end of the last glaciation and the beginning of the current interglacial period. The warming has neither been linear nor monotonic. Within historical times, we has seen the medieval warming period, during which time Greenland and Newfoundland were colonized, and the Little Ice Age endured by George Washington while at Valley Forge.

Throughout the history of the earth the climate has often changed but predicting future changes on the time scale of decades or centuries by using numerical models will never work. Just look at numerical weather prediction models. It is hard to predict a week ahead, and these models are particularly weak when they attempt to call a change in the weather. If we cannot reliably call a turn in the weather 48 - 72 hours out, how can we possibly suggest that global climate models could have any validity over centuries. Models are good at one thing--solving equations. Models cannot account for variables not programmed into them. In the case of climate, some variables that cause problems include: clouds, aerosols, biologic activity, dust, land use, and carbon reservoirs such as: land plants, soil, atmosphere, oceans, & fossil fuels. To repeat myself, models are good for solving equations, period. Whatever you believe about the future of the climate, do not believe model predictions!

What causes climate change

Some causes of climate change include:

Of these gases, water and methane have the most greenhouse effect, but it is not easy to blame mankind for them. Clearly most of the climate change over the last two million years did not result from human activity, but it is possible that man is partially responsible for the last-century warming. It is not possible to prove either way, but it has become axiomatic in the press that it is entirely man's fault. There is a correlation between CO2 concentration (currently about 400 parts per million) and atmospheric temperature, although cause and effect has not been established (cum hoc ergo propter hoc). In fact, Antarctic ice core temperature/CO2 data show that CO2 lags temperature by several hundred years. In other words, the CO2 concentration increased after the temperature had already increased. The concentration has been higher and lower in the past, and given the history of climate change, man's effect, if present, is probably not overwhelming. After all, the CO2 concentration is only about 0.01 that of the water vapor concentration.

The Environment

The word "environment" refers to man's surroundings. Even if used to mean the surroundings of an animal, the word is used only by humans, not by the animal. It should be appropriate then for man to take pleasure in his environment, use its resources, and take care of them. However to some, "environment" and "earth" have taken on the characteristics of a god, and devotion to the environment has become a religion. To those people, man is viewed as evil; whereas, animals, trees, and ice are viewed as good. They seem to think the world would be a better place, if only there were no humans. If the atmosphere is warming, that is good for most people. Those living on low-lying islands or seacoasts seem to be the only exception.

According to the EPA aggregate emissions from six principal pollutants in the USA has decreased 67% since 1980. From that it would seem that man has done a good job in recent years in taking care of his environment.

A review

What have we learned so far? The earth has been warming for a long while, and humans may or may not be contributing some of it now. What is the goal of radical environmentalism? Is it to reverse global warming and produce cooling? That would be a true catastrophe. Is it to stop warming? That is impossible until the next glaciation. Is it to reduce the rate of increase? To what purpose; how low should we reduce it; how will we know when we have done enough? Why is the goal never stated?  Is it possible that the goal is actually to increase governmental control over its citizens?

When have you heard an environmentalist propose a solution (not goal) that did not hurt people or business? Goals such as clean air and water are good; solutions that hurt people, cost money, resources, and the expenditure of great effort by man should be subjected to a cost/benefit analysis. Note that only CO2 emissions from transportation and electricity generation are addressed.

The benefits of "Global" Warming

Amid all this despair about anthropogenic global warming, could it be possible that warming is good? First of all, warming is not global. Greenhouse warming occurs most in colder places and times such as: northern latitudes, mountains, night, & winter. It occurs least in tropical climates, thus warming produces arable land in northern Canada and Siberia  Moreover, whether or not CO2 causes warming, it certainly facilitates plant growth.  Let's compare some benefits with drawbacks.

Drawbacks Benefits
Low-lying areas get flooded on the time scale of centuries Reduced energy use
Loss of biodiversity Gradually more land is available for mankind & farming
Arctic sea ice melts (Antarctic ice accumulates) Northwest passage opens
More heat-related deaths Fewer cold-related deaths
More severe storms?? Better conditions for crops and forests

Although the consequences of warming in the table are significant and problematical, there are offsetting consequences that are good. On balance, decide for yourself, are energy savings and increased land availability better for mankind than slow loss of low-lying areas and loss of biodiversity? When have you ever heard anyone cite the advantages of warming? Would you rather cooling or warming?

Conclusions

The earth has been warming since the latest glaciers started to melt.  Isn't that better than cooling?  Let's all enjoy the energy savings.

Should we worry about global warming? Yes, if you live on a low-lying island or barrier island, otherwise no. We should welcome the warmer temperatures in the polar and temperate climates and accept the trends we cannot control.

J. J. Friel, Ph. D.