Yes, Warming Is Benefiting Human Welfare

Published October 17, 2013

Global warming has benefited human welfare ever since the end of the Little Ice Age and will continue to do so for many more decades at the very least, according to a newly published article in the UK journal The Spectator. This is a truth I have been sharing for years, and it is nice to see the word being spread.

In an article titled “Why climate change is good for the world,” Matt Ridley references Sussex University (UK) professor Richard Tol’s findings that the post-Little Ice Age warming of the past 150 years has substantially improved human welfare. Tol calculates that the benefits of warming temperatures will outweigh the costs for at least another 2.2 degrees Celsius of global warming. Considering temperatures rose merely 0.6 degrees Celsius during the 20th century – and haven’t risen at all this century – the harms will not exceed the benefits until many human generations have come and gone, if the harms ever outweigh the benefits at all.

Ridley writes, “The chief benefits of global warming include: fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity.”

Ridley can add denser forests, shrinking deserts, fewer extreme weather events, a decline in cold-related mortality, and a host of other benefits to that list.

“It is a little-known fact that winter deaths exceed summer deaths — not just in countries like Britain but also those with very warm summers, including Greece,” Ridley observes. “Both Britain and Greece see mortality rates rise by 18 per cent each winter. Especially cold winters cause a rise in heart failures far greater than the rise in deaths during heatwaves.”

“Cold, not the heat, is the biggest killer,” Ridley explains. “For the last decade, Brits have been dying from the cold at the average rate of 29,000 excess deaths each winter. Compare this to the heatwave ten years ago, which claimed 15,000 lives in France and just 2,000 in Britain. In the ten years since, there has been no summer death spike at all. Excess winter deaths hit the poor harder than the rich for the obvious reason: they cannot afford heating. And it is not just those at risk who benefit from moderate warming. Global warming has so far cut heating bills more than it has raised cooling bills.”

Higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide provide benefits irrespective of warming temperatures.

“The greatest benefit from climate change comes not from temperature change but from carbon dioxide itself,” Ridley explains. “It is not pollution, but the raw material from which plants make carbohydrates and thence proteins and fats. As it is an extremely rare trace gas in the air — less than 0.04 per cent of the air on average — plants struggle to absorb enough of it. On a windless, sunny day, a field of corn can suck half the carbon dioxide out of the air. Commercial greenhouse operators therefore pump carbon dioxide into their greenhouses to raise plant growth rates.”

Leave it to global warming activists to turn all this great news into a Chicken Little appeal for more government power and more wealth redistribution.