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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Positives and negatives of global warming

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate Advanced

Negative impacts of global warming on agriculture, health & environment far outweigh any positives.

Climate Myth...

It's not bad

"By the way, if you’re going to vote for something, vote for warming. Less deaths due to cold, regions more habitable, larger crops, longer growing season. That’s good. Warming helps the poor." (John MacArthur)

At a glance

“It's not going to be too bad”, some people optimistically say. Too right. It's going to be worse than that. There are various forms this argument takes. For example, some like to point out that carbon dioxide (CO2) is plant-food – as if nobody else knew that. It is, but it's just one of a number of essential nutrients such as water and minerals. To be healthy, plants require them all.

We know how climate change disrupts agriculture through more intense droughts, raging floods or soil degradation – we've either experienced these phenomena ourselves or seen them on TV news reports. Where droughts intensify and/or become more prolonged, the very viability of agriculture becomes compromised. You can have all the CO2 in the world but without their water and minerals, the plants will die just the same.

At the same time, increased warming is adversely affecting countries where conditions are already close to the limit beyond which yields reduce or crops entirely fail. Parts of sub-Saharan Africa fall into this category. Elsewhere, many millions of people – about one-sixth of the world’s population - rely on fresh water supplied yearly by mountain glaciers through their natural melt and regrowth cycles. Those water supplies are at risk of failure as the glaciers retreat. Everywhere you look, climate change loads the dice with problems, both now and in the future.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Further details

Most climate change impacts will confer few or no benefits, but may do great harm at considerable costs. We'll look at the picture, sector by sector below figure 1.

IPCC AR6 WGII Chapter 16 Figure FAQ 16.5.1

Figure 1: Simplified presentation of the five Reasons for Concern burning ember diagrams as assessed in IPCC AR6 Working Group 2 Chapter 16 (adapted from Figure 16.15, Figure FAQ 16.5.1).


While CO2 is essential for plant growth, that gas is just one thing they need in order to stay healthy. All agriculture also depends on steady water supplies and climate change is likely to disrupt those in places, both through soil-eroding floods and droughts.

It has been suggested that higher latitudes – Siberia, for example – may become productive due to global warming, but in reality it takes a considerable amount of time (centuries plus) for healthy soils to develop naturally. The soil in Arctic Siberia and nearby territories is generally very poor – peat underlain by permafrost in many places, on top of which sunlight is limited at such high latitudes. Or, as a veg-growing market gardening friend told us, “This whole idea of "we'll be growing grains on the tundra" is just spouted by idiots who haven't grown as much as a carrot in their life and therefore simply don't have a clue that we need intact ecosystems to produce our food.” So there are other reasons why widespread cultivation up there is going to be a tall order.

Agriculture can also be disrupted by wildfires and changes in the timing of the seasons, both of which are already taking place. Changes to grasslands and water supplies can impact grazing and welfare of domestic livestock. Increased warming may also have a greater effect on countries whose climate is already near or at a temperature limit over which yields reduce or crops fail – in parts of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, for example.


Warmer winters would mean fewer deaths, particularly among vulnerable groups like the elderly. However, the very same groups are also highly vulnerable to heatwaves. On a warmer planet, excess deaths caused by heatwaves are expected to be approximately five times higher than winter deaths prevented.

In addition, it is widely understood that as warmer conditions spread polewards, that will also encourage the migration of disease-bearing insects like mosquitoes, ticks and so on. So long as they have habitat and agreeable temperatures to suit their requirements, they'll make themselves at home. Just as one example out of many, malaria is already appearing in places it hasn’t been seen before.

Polar Melting

While the opening of a year-round ice-free Arctic passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would have some commercial benefits, these are considerably outweighed by the negatives. Detrimental effects include increased iceberg hazards to shipping and loss of ice albedo (the reflection of sunshine) due to melting sea-ice allowing the ocean to absorb more incoming solar radiation. The latter is a good example of a positive climate feedback. Ice melts away, waters absorb more energy and warming waters increase glacier melt around the coastlines of adjacent lands.

Warmer ocean water also raises the temperature of submerged Arctic permafrost, which then releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. The latter process has been observed occurring in the waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and is poorly understood. At the other end of the planet, melting and break-up of the Antarctic ice shelves will speed up the land-glaciers they hold back, thereby adding significantly to sea-level rise.

Ocean Acidification

Acidity is measured by the pH scale (0 = highly acidic, 7 = neutral, 14 = highly alkaline). The lowering of ocean pH is a cause for considerable concern without any counter-benefits at all. This process is caused by additional CO2 being absorbed in the water. Why that's a problem is because critters that build their shells out of calcium carbonate, such as bivalves, snails and many others, may find that carbonate dissolving faster than they can make it. The impact that would have on the marine food-chain should be self-evident.

Melting Glaciers

The effects of glaciers melting are largely detrimental and some have already been mentioned. But a major impact would be that many millions of people (one-sixth of the world’s population) depend on fresh water supplied each year by the seasonal melt and regrowth cycles of glaciers. Melt them and those water supplies, vital not just for drinking but for agriculture, will fail.

Sea Level Rise

Many parts of the world are low-lying and will be severely affected even by modest sea level rises. Rice paddies are already becoming inundated with salt water, destroying the crops. Seawater is contaminating rivers as it mixes with fresh water further upstream, and aquifers are becoming saline. The viability of some coastal communities is already under discussion, since raised sea levels in combination with seasonal storms will lead to worse flooding as waves overtop more sea defences.


Positive effects of climate change may include greener rainforests and enhanced plant growth in the Amazon, increased vegetation in northern latitudes and possible increases in plankton biomass in some parts of the ocean.

Negative responses may include some or all of the following: further expansion of oxygen-poor ocean “dead zones”, contamination or exhaustion of fresh water supplies, increased incidence of natural fires and extensive vegetation die-off due to droughts. Increased risk of coral extinction, changes in migration patterns of birds and animals, changes in seasonal timing and disruption to food chains: all of these processes point towards widespread species loss.


Economic impacts of climate change are highly likely to be catastrophic, while there have been very few benefits projected at all. As long ago as 2006, the Stern Report made clear the overall pattern of economic distress and that prevention was far cheaper than adaptation.

Scenarios projected in IPCC reports have repeatedly warned of massive future migrations due to unprecedented disruptions to global agriculture, trade, transport, energy supplies, labour markets, banking and finance, investment and insurance. Such disturbances would wreak havoc on the stability of both developed and developing nations and they substantially increase the risk of future conflicts. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that the detrimental effects of climate change will be visited mostly on those countries least equipped to cope with it, socially or economically.

These and other areas of concern are covered in far more detail in the 36-page Summary for Policymakers from the IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report, released in March 2023. The report spells out in no uncertain terms the increasingly serious issues Mankind faces; the longer that meaningful action on climate is neglected, the greater the severity of impacts. The report is available for download here.


Last updated on 21 April 2023 by John Mason. View Archives

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Further reading

National Geographic have an informative article listing the various positives and negatives of global warming for Greenland.

Climate Wizard is an interactive tool that lets you examine projected temperature and precipitation changes for any part of the world.

A good overview of the impacts of ocean acidification is found in Ken Caldeira's What Corals are Dying to Tell Us About CO2 and Ocean Acidification

Denial101x video

Here is a related video lecture from Denial101x - Making senses of climate science denial


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Comments 51 to 75 out of 265:

  1. Hapivibe @ 44 - Also, if fossil fuels are running out, does this timing coincide nicely with the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels? Easily accessible oil may be running out, but there's plenty of coal, tar sands and shale left. Enough perhaps, to turn the Earth into a rather different looking planet. Finally, I would love an assurance that the people on this site putting masses of effort into collating data and facts actually live in a sustainable way ie. you practice what you profess Yup, but by no means an "eco-saint". It's a very long list of practices my wife and I undertake to reduce our carbon output, but I don't judge others badly because they don't put in the same effort. Hopefully we'll all get there in the end (fingers crossed!)
  2. hi jurphy thanks for getting back to me and thanks for your interest: i think the smoking analogy has gone off topic a bit so i wont reply directly to that i propose that the rainforest and the sea are far away from westerners who comment on this site. species extinction does not affect us directly nor are we told when we are consuming more than our fair share and it is sadly only a minority of people take direct action to change things. global warming is a more frightening concept as it may affect all of us indiscriminately and therefore is has captured the imagination of people as an issue and it may get more media coverage due to this pscychological aspect than the other issues i proposed. I have no data. I am telling you what i see but i hope you will allow me to write what i see as it doesn't say all comments must be backed up by data anywhere on this site, does it?
  3. Well, hapivibe, to me "would have thought" sounds kind of like "assume." We all know what "assume" means. I can tell you that in my case we have a bit of computer gear here that necessarily runs all the time, having to do w/offsite backup. Problem, eh? Especially it's a problem because while the local climate means that a little less than 90% of our juice comes from hydro, the same climate means that photovoltaic systems are not affordable for much more than crosswalk flashers and things on that scale. What does work here is domestic hot water preheat via solar collectors, so I installed a system that eliminates a substantial amount of electrical input for hot water heating, thus indirectly eliminating about twice the electricity consumed by the 24/7 computer hardware. What's great about the DHW thing is the knock-on, catalytic effect it had on some of our other behaviors around the house. The absolute consumption (~1000kWh/year) of the computer hardware versus the DHW output reminded us of how just a few extra things turned off add up over time. In my mind, turning off unnecessary load sort of equates to more sunlight on the solar collectors. Strange, but that's psychology. Meanwhile, this next couple of years will be most interesting because we've got two automobiles that are arguably ready for retirement. They've reached 20+ years of age and while they're in good repair and don't have the lousiest gas consumption, we're finally at the point where buying an electric vehicle is no longer going to be a technology application experiment folded into day-to-day living. Given our typical requirements for driving, this means we'll shortly no longer have to purchase gasoline except in those rare instances when we decide to rent a IC car for road trips. A big win there. That leaves as usual the problem of air travel, the huge, airy elephant in the room. This is a nice example of how we're embedded in context and the dilemmas that can pose. While many of my relatives in the U.K. are dead, some are not. They are sort of a case of an "endangered species" but all the same I have qualms about visits. We go over that way about every 3 years on average, which is definitely not sustainable when we generalize and consider the hundreds of millions of aging aunts and the like pining for visits from nephews, grandchildren, etc. That's a toughie, it's an inheritance and difficult to just turn off.
  4. cool doug and dappled. i feel better that it's not just words xx ahhh!!!please, no kisses on this site, it's for proper scientists don't you know! scientists need love too : - ) ?
  5. i propose that the rainforest and the sea are far away from westerners who comment on this site. Illustrating the hazards of assumptions, we live about 5 miles as the crow flies from the sea, about 40 miles from a temperate rain forest.
  6. that's true - let me expand. what i mean is we can't see into the sea to see it's health or how depleted it is - it's pretty mysterious as we only see the surface. not sure why i said we don't live near the sea, that was a mistake. i meant we are not close to the drift nets, for example that plunder it. we don't see that. re. rainforest i really mean amazon rainforest. is the rainforest close to you reducing in size or is it protected?
  7. Hapivibe - that's true - let me expand. what i mean is we can't see into the sea to see it's health or how depleted it is - it's pretty mysterious as we only see the surface I'm now in my 4th decade of diving. I live in New Zealand. I can tell you the sea life is diminishing. Overfishing is responsible for the spread of sea urchin barrens here, because the main predator, crayfish (spiny lobster) and snapper, populations have plummeted. The effects of nutrient run-off (nitrates & phosphates predominately) and siltation are also apparent in inner harbor waters. New Zealand is often trundled out as a poster child for sustainable fisheries management. I shudder to think what is happening in other parts of the world.
  8. Hapivibe - I should have further explained what a sea urchin barren is - when the sea urchin populations increase to such an extent they strip the shallow coastal waters of kelp and other seaweeds - hence a barren seascape.
  9. hapivibe wrote : "I have no data. I am telling you what i see but i hope you will allow me to write what i see as it doesn't say all comments must be backed up by data anywhere on this site, does it?" Of course you don't need data for everything you write but you did come on here suggesting that there was an obsession with data and AGW, to the detriment of those other causes you mentioned. Now, it would appear that you don't actually have any proof of that - it is just your observation of this site and what you see in the real world ? Well, we can all use our own experiences to come up with our own opinions (especially with regard to AGW, over-fishing, the destruction of the rainforests, etc.) but those opinions are more credible and reliable when they are based on some form of fact, evidence, data, etc. I don't need to directly experience any of those to generally accept that the problems exist and need to be faced sooner rather than later. Anyway, have you looked at the Intermediate version of this thread ? There are more linkages (and links) given there between AGW and all the causes you mention, showing that they are not seen in isolation or as mutually exclusive and separate. There is also more at Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?, and Comparing what the IPCC and peer-reviewed science say about Amazonian forests
  10. hi jmurphy I have already said I know they are not mutually exclusive. That is really not what i am saying. What I am saying is the sea runing out of fish by overfishing may be a more pressing issue than AGW/CC as it may affect humans more and first. Don't you think this is equally as big an issue? Do you think overfishing receives less coverage even though it is just as important as AGW/CC. Maybe it is more important. Do you know? Does anyone know? Has this been raised before on this site - does this mean it is being overshadowed?
  11. happivibe wrote : "What I am saying is the sea runing out of fish by overfishing may be a more pressing issue than AGW/CC as it may affect humans more and first. Don't you think this is equally as big an issue? Do you think overfishing receives less coverage even though it is just as important as AGW/CC. Maybe it is more important. Do you know? Does anyone know? Has this been raised before on this site - does this mean it is being overshadowed?" Last thing first : The goal of this site is stated to be "to explain what peer reviewed science has to say about global warming." If you want to know more about over-fishing, there are more detailed sites available, like, the UN's FAO (SOFIA), and Greenpeace. There is also this study, which shows fish size decreasing, in relation to global warming - perhaps related to the smaller fish sizes being noticed in connection with what is normally regarded as being solely due to overfishing : Global warming benefits the small in aquatic ecosystems But, even here on Skeptical Science, there is a link given on this thread which will take you to, who "cover a range of other threats like overfishing and pollution and other aspects of marine biology and coral reef science". So, not ignored or lessened in importance or overshadowed, really : just the nature of this site, so to speak.
  12. This web site is unbelievably passionate and detailed to the tune that it comes across as believing that global warming is the biggest threat facing humanity. Where is the evidence for this? I know it's a threat but is it definitely, beyond doubt the biggest threat? I would hate all this effort to go to waste if we realised too late that overconsumption, for example is the biggest threat and the focus on global warming means we are taking our eye off the ball. Is the biggest threat not over consumption? Should we all be debating about how to consume less and do more to change things for the better? Thanks JMurphy, I know what this web site is about and I am still trying to figure out if the activity is in or out of proportion to the threat posed by GW. As I said in earlier comments, perhaps taking more action is better than sitting at a computer typing about it. Perhaps the biggest threat facing humanity is apathy - I don't know.
  13. hapivibe wrote : "This web site is unbelievably passionate and detailed to the tune that it comes across as believing that global warming is the biggest threat facing humanity. Where is the evidence for this? I know it's a threat but is it definitely, beyond doubt the biggest threat? I would hate all this effort to go to waste if we realised too late that overconsumption, for example is the biggest threat and the focus on global warming means we are taking our eye off the ball. Is the biggest threat not over consumption? Should we all be debating about how to consume less and do more to change things for the better?" Global warming is a threat alongside and above all the other causes you seem to be trying to emphasise as greater threats (without any evidence so far). I have already given you examples of how AGW is connected with the rainforest and fishing, and it is also linked to availability of drinking water, coastal habitation, agriculture, etc., etc. Each on its own is a serious problem but AGW has detrimental effects on all of them. Surely that warrants special attention, since it's mitigation will have consequent benefits for all the concerns you have ? As for over-consumption, that will continue for as long as there are goods to consume and there are goods that can be made to be consumed. Again, AGW will have an effect on that because our carbon-based economies make over-consumption easier and cheaper to carry out - while polluting the atmosphere. Anyway, many people have many different opinions as to which threats are most important, and there's even a WIKIPIDIA page which lists them all. There is also a UN organisation (UN DESA) which tries to join-up reaction and help to all of them, including AGW. In other words, don't worry about us here (on a site pertaining to AGW) not spending too much time on all those other matters - there are many others out there who are. Perhaps that is where you should be addressing your questions ?
  14. No, i'm sorry. You have not provided evidence that proves that global warming is the biggest threat. And I still don't know why there is so much attention paid to it compared to the other issues. You have not shown me a link to a discussion site where people are this involved for any other topic. Why does this topic generate a disproportionate amount of interest? Can you just give straight answers if possible and not links this time as I don't need links? Thank you.
  15. We talk about climate change because this is a website about climate change. This is one of those basic rules of web etiquette. The web is a big place. If you want to talk about overfishing or poodle-grooming or sports or whatever, there are plenty of other sites elsewhere. But going to a discussion forum dedicated to Topic X and telling people that they really ought to be discussing Topic Y instead is generally not appreciated.
  16. Sorry I know I am curious and I couldn't find a section on the site. Let's say I'm sceptical about being sceptical about being sceptical but an answer would be good as I am interested in any psychological aspect. If you are in the gw 'bubble', it is indeed an open forum where I can enter and challenge this and I appreciate it. Sorry for any offence and I do honour web etiquette.
  17. hapivibe - I have to agree with Ned. This site is dedicated to discussing/dissecting the "skeptic" response to global warming, which involves a great deal of bad logic, cherry-picking, and some very odd approaches to science. Overfishing is a big problem. So is population growth, resource overutilization, and any number of other topics. But those topics are not what this website is devoted to, unless those are related to global warming. They are simply off-topic and inappropriate here; and it feels like you're nagging participants for putting energy into this discussion.
  18. hapivibe > You have not provided evidence that proves that global warming is the biggest threat. The goal of this site is not to rank every threat faced by mankind. I'm not sure what the point of such a ranking would be anyways. Are you implying that humanity is only capable of dealing with a single issue at a time? Should we halt all cancer research until we solve overconsumption or whatever issue you feel tops the "worst threat" ranking? There are over 6 billion people on this earth, I think we can deal with more than one issue at a time.
  19. hapivibe, There is a lot of discussion of AGW because the science is being actively debated (I would say more like attacked) by a large and influential group of skeptics. Breast cancer for example does not require this discussion, as nobody seriously doubts that it is real and thus there is no discussion to be had. If you find AGW so unworthy of discussion, then tell me, why are you here adding to it? If you would rather discuss overconsumption, then visit a blog about overconsumption, or better yet, start your own. If you can generate some interesting and compelling discussion then your pet issue will attract more attention, and more power to you if it does.
  20. Oh, transjasmine, where art thou? You said, on an inappropriate thread, that the proper argument was whether or not CO2 was dangerous, and that where humans are has nothing to do with anything. Briefly: there's a very good chance that warming will decrease global land ice and cause thermal expansion of the world's oceans. The resulting sea level rises would then force significant numbers of people away from their coastal homes. In some cases, the rise may cause significant migrations of people over national borders. Nationalist attitudes in target countries will hinder this migration and intensify the migratory pressure. Forced migration will be in addition to the pressure of migration by choice, as people with means will choose to move northward to avoid the longer, hotter summers. John, "bait" is a pretty strong word for this situation. That's a pretty tired worm, and, as a fish, I'm to the point where I don't have the heart to bite this one even gently.
  21. @ DSL (70) Don't blame John for that one. The, um, moderator was trying to keep from having to delete archiesteel's comments and to provide a teaching moment at the same time. I'm sure the moderator would appreciate it if you can think of a more appropriate way to have handled it.. And I'm sure the same mod appreciates you taking 'the road to Loch Lomond' (the high road). ;)
  22. Nice article in 25 Nov NYT: Front-Line City in Virginia Tackles Rise in Sea Like many other cities, Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh. Now that fill is settling and compacting. In addition, the city is in an area where significant natural sinking of land is occurring. The result is that Norfolk has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930, according to readings by the Sewells Point naval station here. Nah, its not bad.
  23. After 2-3 of months that you could call summer, and 3 months of autumn when it just gets progressively colder and darker, winter has now struck my home country (Sweden). Six degrees warmer would be very nice now (actually would be nice the whole year around), but it still would not take the temperature above freezing in Stockholm - and I don't have the time to wait for it another 100 years for it to happen... And with the present rate of 0.016 degrees per year the promised change would hardly be noticed. Yes, I know there are places on the earth where it is too hot, but it is hard to believe right now. New cold records were just set in Wales (-18C) and in Northern Ireland. In northern Sweden we have had temperatures around -30C for about a week already.
  24. Re: Argus (73) Do you have sources for those "cold records"? The Yooper
  25. Re: Argus (73) You may wish to reconsider that wish for an additional 6 degrees (I assume you mean C). Here's the latest, which says we're on track for 4 degrees C - by the 2060s. This means the 2 degree C target for organizations like Copenhagen or or CO2Now is impossible. Maybe you're unfamiliar with what effects a 4 degree C rise will entail. Let me refresh your memory:
    "At four degrees another tipping point is almost certain to be crossed; indeed, it could happen much earlier. (This reinforces the determination of many environmental groups, and indeed the entire EU, to bring us in within the two degrees target.) This moment comes as the hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon locked up in Arctic permafrost – particularly in Siberia – enter the melt zone, releasing globally warming methane and carbon dioxide in immense quantities. No one knows how rapidly this might happen, or what its effect might be on global temperatures, but this scientific uncertainty is surely cause for concern and not complacency. The whole Arctic Ocean ice cap will also disappear, leaving the North Pole as open water for the first time in at least three million years. Extinction for polar bears and other ice-dependent species will now be a certainty. The south polar ice cap may also be badly affected – the West Antarctic ice sheet could lift loose from its bedrock and collapse as warming ocean waters nibble away at its base, much of which is anchored below current sea levels. This would eventually add another 5m to global sea levels – again, the timescale is uncertain, but as sea level rise accelerates coastlines will be in a constant state of flux. Whole areas, and indeed whole island nations, will be submerged. In Europe, new deserts will be spreading in Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey: the Sahara will have effectively leapt the Straits of Gibraltar. In Switzerland, summer temperatures may hit 48C, more reminiscent of Baghdad than Basel. The Alps will be so denuded of snow and ice that they resemble the rocky moonscapes of today’s High Atlas – glaciers will only persist on the highest peaks such as Mont Blanc. The sort of climate experienced today in Marrakech will be experienced in southern England, with summer temperatures in the home counties reaching a searing 45C. Europe’s population may be forced into a “great trek” north."
    Remember that 2 degrees C means Middle Eastern summer temps for Europe and guarantees the eventual loss of the GIS and the South American glaciers. Three degrees C risks the loss of the Amazon to fire. Don't think for a second that it will stop there, at 4 degrees C. 4 by the 2060s means 6 by 2100 and an eventual methane clathrate/hydrate release. Think PETM... Beware of what you wish for. The Yooper

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