Warmer earth might be welcome trend

April 28, 1998 • Commentary

Pundits, politicians and the press have argued that global warming will bring disaster to the world, but there are good reasons to believe that, if it occurs, we will like it. Where do retirees go when they are free to move? Certainly not to Duluth.

People like warmth. When weather reporters on TV say, “It will be a great day,” they usually mean that it will be warmer than normal. The weather can, of course, be too warm, but that is unlikely to become a major problem if the globe warms. Even though it is far from certain that the temperature will rise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the U.N. 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 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today and that precipitation worldwide will increase by about 7 percent.

The scientists who make up this body also predict that most of the warming will occur at night and during the winter. In fact, records show that, over this century, summer highs have actually declined while winter lows have gone up. In addition, 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 their temperature increase will occur during their coldest season, making their climate more livable.

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 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.

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.

Most economic activities would be unaffected by climate change. Manufacturing, banking, insurance, retailing, wholesaling, medicine, educational, 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 would benefit generally from a warmer climate, since road transport 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.

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 for 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.

According to climatologists, the villain causing a warmer world is the unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide we keep pumping into the atmosphere. As high school biology teachers emphasize, plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen.

Researchers have shown, moreover, that virtually all plants will do better in an environment enriched with carbon dioxide than in the current atmosphere, which contains only trace amounts of their basic food. In addition, warmer winters and nights 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.

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.