Special Report: Global Warming Benefits May Exceed Risks

Published May 1, 1998

Pundits, politicians, and the press have argued that global warming will bring disaster to the world. Their dire predictions aside, there are many good reasons to believe that, if global warming occurs, we will like it.

Where do retirees go when they are free to move? Certainly not to Duluth. People generally like warmth. When a television weather reporter says, “it’s going to be a great day,” he usually means the weather will be warmer than normal. The weather can, of course, be too warm, but that is unlikely to become a major problem if the Earth’s temperature warms as projected.

How Warm, When, and Where?

Even though it is far from certain that global temperatures will rise noticeably, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the United Nations body that has been studying this possibility for more than a decade) has forecast that, by the end of the next century, the world’s climate will be about 3.6o Fahrenheit warmer than today. Precipitation worldwide, it is projected, will increase by about 7 percent.

IPCC scientists predict that most of the warming will occur at night and during the winter. In fact, the temperature record shows that, over this century, summer high temperatures have actually fallen, while winter lows have gone up.

Temperatures are expected to increase the most towards the poles. Thus, Minneapolis should enjoy more warming than Dallas. But even the Twin Cities should find that most of its temperature increase will occur during its coldest season, making the climate more livable.

Warmer Winters Are Good

Warmer winters will produce less ice and snow to torment drivers, facilitating commuting and making snow shoveling less of a chore. Families will have less need to invest in heavy parkas, bulky jackets, earmuffs, mittens, and snow boots.

Department of Energy studies have shown that a warmer climate would reduce heating bills more than it would boost outlays on air conditioning. If we currently enjoyed the weather predicted for the end of the next century, expenditures for heating and cooling would be cut by about $12.2 billion annually.

Most economic activities would be unaffected by climate change. Manufacturing, banking, insurance, retailing, wholesaling, medicine, education, mining, financial, and most other services are unrelated to weather. Those activities can be carried out in cold climates with central heating or in hot climates with air conditioning. Certain weather-related or outdoor-oriented services, however, would be affected.

Transportation generally would benefit from a warmer climate, since road travelers would suffer less from slippery or impassable highways. Airline passengers, who often endure weather-related delays in the winter, would gain from more reliable and on-time service.

Warmer Is Healthier, Too

The doomsayers have predicted that a warmer world would inflict tropical diseases on Americans. They neglect to mention that those diseases–such as malaria, cholera, and yellow fever–were widespread in the United States in the colder 19th century. Their absence today is attributable not to a climate unsuitable to their propagation, but to modern sanitation and the American lifestyle, which prevent the microbes from getting a foothold. It is actually warmer along the Gulf Coast, which is free of dengue fever, than on the Caribbean islands, where the disease is endemic.

My own research shows that a warmer world would be a healthier one for Americans and would cut the number of deaths in the U.S. by about 40,000 per year, roughly the number killed on the highways.

CO2 No Pollutant for Plants

According to climatologists, the villain causing a warmer world is the unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we humans keep pumping into the atmosphere. But as high school biology students nationwide know, plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Researchers have shown that virtually all plants will do better in a CO2-rich environment than in the current atmosphere, which contains only trace amounts of their basic food.

Plants also prefer warmer winters and nights, and a warmer world would mean longer growing seasons. Combined with higher levels of CO2, plant life would become more vigorous, thus providing more food for animals and humans. Given a rising world population, longer growing seasons, greater rainfall, and an enriched atmosphere could be just the ticket to stave off famine and want.

Sea Levels Pose Little Threat

A slowly rising sea level constitutes the only significant drawback to global warming. The best guess of the international scientists is that oceans will rise about 2 inches per decade.

The cost to Americans of building dikes and constructing levees to mitigate the damage from rising seas would be less than $1 billion per year, an insignificant amount compared to the likely gain of over $100 billion for the American people as a whole.

Let’s not rush into costly programs to stave off something that we may like if it occurs. Warmer is better; richer is healthier; acting now is foolish.

Dr. Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry about Global Warming recently published by the Cato Institute.