The Benefits of Climate Change

October 25, 2013

Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not a right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this, says British scientist and journalist Matt Ridley.

  • The chief benefits of global warming include: fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity.
  • It is a little-known fact that winter deaths exceed summer deaths.

There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today -- and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.

  • Overall, Tol finds that climate change in the past century improved human welfare.
  • He calculates the improvement has been 1.4 percent of global economic output, rising to 1.5 percent by 2025.
  • For some people, this means the difference between survival and starvation.

The greatest benefit from climate change comes not from temperature change but from carbon dioxide itself. It is not pollution, but the raw material from which plants make carbohydrates and thereafter 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.

Even polar bears are thriving so far. It's worth noting that the three years with the lowest polar bear cub survival in the western Hudson Bay (1974, 1984 and 1992) were the years when the sea ice was too thick for ringed seals to appear in good numbers in spring. Bears need broken ice.

Building wind turbines, growing biofuels and substituting wood for coal in power stations -- all policies designed explicitly to fight climate change -- have had negligible effects on carbon dioxide emissions. But they have driven people into fuel poverty, made industries uncompetitive, driven up food prices, accelerated the destruction of forests, killed rare birds of prey, and divided communities.

So we are doing real harm now to impede a change that will produce net benefits for 70 years.

Source: Matt Ridley, "Why Climate Change Is Good for the World," The Spectator (U.K.), October 19, 2013.

 

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