The Growing Benefits of a Warmer World

March 18, 2014

Global warming has stalled for the last 16 years, but the warming that has occurred over the last 150 years -- despite what is commonly believed -- has actually been beneficial. In fact, the earth should continue to see benefits from warming for the foreseeable future, says H. Sterling Burnett, a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • A study by economist Richard Tol found that until 2080, and potentially beyond that, a warming trend would have a positive impact on the world's economy. Over the last 150 years, the globe has warmed an average 0.8 degrees Celsius. An additional 2.2 degree rise in temperature would continue to yield substantial benefits.
  • Climate change over the last century has added 1.4 percent to global economic output, Tol found. By 2025, that figure should reach 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) have added 0.8 percent to GDP because of the boost to agriculture. Similarly, the temperature increase has reduced the demand for heating, adding 0.4 percent to GDP.

With higher CO2 levels, plants thrive and become more efficient in their use of water. And because most of the warming has reduced low nighttime temperatures, the globe has seen fewer growth-stunting frost events, as well as longer growing seasons.

  • Agronomist Craig Idso determined that a 300 parts per million rise in CO2 increases plant biomass 25 percent to 55 percent.
  • From 1961 to 2011, the annual value of improved plant growth grew from $18.5 billion to more than $140 billion, amounting to a total of $3.2 trillion.
  • From today to 2050, Idso determined that increases in CO2 will result in $9.8 trillion in additional crop production.

Notably, it is Africa that is benefiting largely from improved agricultural production.

  • Growing faster than all other continents, one-third of African countries are growing at 6 percent per year. And from 2005 to today, the amount of people living below the poverty line has fallen from 51 percent to 39 percent.
  • African farmers are replacing crops introduced by colonial governments with traditional crops that grow best in warm, dry conditions. In sub-Saharan Africa, the growth of agricultural GDP increased from 2.3 percent per year in the 1980s to 3.8 percent each year from 2000 to 2005.
  • Food production is actually outpacing population growth in Uganda and the 15 countries of West Africa. The poverty rate in Ghana has fallen in half, while farm output has increased 5 percent every year for the last two decades. Even Ethiopia and Malawi are growing record amounts of crops and exporting surpluses.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "The Growing Benefits of a Warmer World," National Center for Policy Analysis, March 18, 2014.

 

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