What’s wrong with a better climate? This article explores the upside of a pleasantly warmer world.
More rain means more water
Warmth brings evaporation and more warmth brings more rain. This would solve problems of water scarcity. One-third of the world's population already suffers from chronic water shortages. By 2025, some three billion people, 40% of the world's population could be living in countries that now have insufficient water supplies, leading to current crop failures, diminished economic development and regional conflicts as nations are finding it necessary to fight for control over scarce water resources.
More evaporation creates more rain which falls everywhere, including as ice and snow at the poles. Therefore more polar ice could mean lower sea levels. Those Pacific atolls that now identify higher sea levels as reasons hampering quality of life will be relieved if seas drop. But if it is argued that in a warmer world, rain will fall selectively and miss the poles, marine access to oil, gas and mineral resources is likely to improve as sea ice retreats. Opening up new oil wells could relieve shortages which would bring down petrol prices. A warmer world might then be cheaper for the taxpayer.
If history is any indication, greater precipitation brings huge benefits. Between the 10th and 12th Centuries, when the temperature of the planet was roughly 0.5C warmer than today, agriculture in North America and Europe flourished and southern Greenland was free of ice, allowing cultivation by Nordic settlers. A Little Ice Age began between 1400 and 1420, blanketing Vikings' farms in ice and forcing them to abandon farms in search of more hospitable climates. Prior to this, temperatures were comparable to the temperatures that general circulation models used by the IPCC have projected for 2030-2050.
Less endangered species
Life likes warmth, which is why there are millions more species in the earth's equatorial band and between the tropics than at or near the poles. A warmer world benefits endangered species. With less of the hazards associated with yearly migration warmth would increase bird numbers. A warmer Arctic would increase the number of fish such as the Arctic Char, extend the growing season for wheat in Canada and open up the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route for shipping and resource exploitation. Animals that accompany humans will proliferate in higher latitudes.
A warmer world would go some way towards reducing poverty. The West at the moment relies on a constant and sustainable pool of poor in an underdeveloped third world for cheap labour producing goods that will sell in western shops for massive profit. Inadequate water leads to arid fields. Only 17% of Africa, the world's richest and poorest continent, has agricultural production. More water means an end to droughts and could enable a previously nomadic group to build strong community and develop industry which would build an economic base.
If temperatures rose 2.5C, deaths in the US from respiratory diseases (such as pneumonia and influenza), diseases of the circulatory system and infectious diseases would drop by 40,000 per year. Warming would reduce medical costs by $20 billion annually. Doctors advise sick and elderly to spend time in warmer climates, or a "more favourable climate". They never recommend patients relocate to Alaska or Invercargill. Cold is more deadly than warmth. A 1995 report by the IPCC acknowledged that global warming would result in fewer cold-related deaths. Malaria, cholera, and yellow fever were widespread in the colder 19th century. Their absence now is attributable to modern sanitation and lifestyle, which prevents microbes from getting a foothold. Warmth improves lifestyle.
Less crippling cold
The colder the winter, the higher the death rate. Hot summers bring lower death rates. It is cold not warmth that threatens economies. In NZ, frosts wreck the stone fruit industry and the frozen ground in spring kills newborn lambs. More days off work by workers with colds and flu mean less productivity. Warmer winters produce less ice and snow to torment drivers, facilitating commuting. Families have less need to invest in weather protective clothing and heating bills. Icy roads create accidents and close schools and airports. Airline passengers often endure weather-related delays in the winter.
More CO2 better for plants
CO2 acts as a fertilizer on plant life while reducing plant transpiration (passage of water from roots through plant's vascular system to the atmosphere). With global warming, agricultural output would increase whilst making less demand on the water supply. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Virtually all plants do better in a CO2-rich environment than an atmosphere containing only trace amounts of their basic food. Plants prefer warmer winters and nights. A warmer world means longer growing seasons. Combined with higher levels of CO2, plant life becomes more vigorous, providing more food for animals and humans. A rising world population, longer growing seasons, greater rainfall, and an enriched atmosphere would help alleviate famine and want.
A warmer globe may result in the polar jet stream's retreating towards higher latitudes. In the Northern Hemisphere the climate belt would move north. An average annual 3.7C increase for New York City would give it the climate of Atlanta. Summertime temperatures will not go up as they differ less than winter temperatures on the same longitude and differ less than average temperatures. In NZ, jet streams would be lower, reducing winter subzero minimums in the South Island.
Let’s work towards a warmer world
The decades following the 1850s brought averagely lower temperatures because of lower sunspot values, less evaporation and lower agricultural yields. Droughts in the last part of the 19th century and first third of the 20th century brought the Great Federation drought, the Great Depression, Wall St Crash and the “dustbowl” years. Because of the 166-year repeat of planetary cycles, the next few decades may herald a similar repeat of cooler global temperatures.
Politicians wishing to tax warmth will not get my vote.
Ken Ring of www.predictweather.com is the author of Weather Almanac for NZ for 2014 (Random House)