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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)

Here’s a list of cause and effect relationships, showing that most climate change impacts will confer few or no benefits, but may do great harm at considerable cost.

Agriculture

While CO2 is essential for plant growth, all agriculture depends also on steady water supplies, and climate change is likely to disrupt those supplies through floods and droughts. It has been suggested that higher latitudes – Siberia, for example – may become productive due to global warming, but the soil in Arctic and bordering territories is very poor, and the amount of sunlight reaching the ground in summer will not change because it is governed by the tilt of the earth. Agriculture can also be disrupted by wildfires and changes in seasonal periodicity, which is already taking place, and changes to grasslands and water supplies could 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 the tropics or sub-Sahara, for example.

Health

Warmer winters would mean fewer deaths, particularly among vulnerable groups like the aged. However, the same groups are also vulnerable to additional heat, and deaths attributable to heatwaves are expected to be approximately five times as great as winter deaths prevented. It is widely believed that warmer climes will encourage migration of disease-bearing insects like mosquitoes and 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 confer some commercial benefits, these are considerably outweighed by the negatives. Detrimental effects include loss of polar bear habitat and increased mobile ice hazards to shipping. The loss of ice albedo (the reflection of heat), causing the ocean to absorb more heat, is also a positive feedback; the warming waters increase glacier and Greenland ice cap melt, as well as raising the temperature of Arctic tundra, which then releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (methane is also released from the sea-bed, where it is trapped in ice-crystals called clathrates). Melting of the Antarctic ice shelves is predicted to add further to sea-level rise with no benefits accruing.

Ocean Acidification

A cause for considerable concern, there appear to be no benefits to the change in pH of the oceans. This process is caused by additional CO2 being absorbed in the water, and may have severe destabilising effects on the entire oceanic food-chain.

Melting Glaciers

The effects of glaciers melting are largely detrimental, the principle impact being that many millions of people (one-sixth of the world’s population) depend on fresh water supplied each year by natural spring melt and regrowth cycles and those water supplies – drinking water, agriculture – may fail.

Sea Level Rise

Many parts of the world are low-lying and will be severely affected by modest sea rises. Rice paddies are being inundated with salt water, which destroys the crops. Seawater is contaminating rivers as it mixes with fresh water further upstream, and aquifers are becoming polluted. Given that the IPCC did not include melt-water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps due to uncertainties at that time, estimates of sea-level rise are feared to considerably underestimate the scale of the problem. There are no proposed benefits to sea-level rise.

Environmental

Positive effects of climate change may include greener rainforests and enhanced plant growth in the Amazon, increased vegitation in northern latitudes and possible increases in plankton biomass in some parts of the ocean. Negative responses may include further growth of oxygen poor ocean zones, contamination or exhaustion of fresh water, increased incidence of natural fires, extensive vegetation die-off due to droughts, increased risk of coral extinction, decline in global photoplankton, changes in migration patterns of birds and animals, changes in seasonal periodicity, disruption to food chains and species loss.

Economic

The economic impacts of climate change may be catastrophic, while there have been very few benefits projected at all. The Stern report made clear the overall pattern of economic distress, and while the specific numbers may be contested, the costs of climate change were far in excess of the costs of preventing it. Certain scenarios projected in the IPCC AR4 report would witness massive migration as low-lying countries were flooded. Disruptions to global trade, transport, energy supplies and labour markets, banking and finance, investment and insurance, would all wreak havoc on the stability of both developed and developing nations. Markets would endure increased volatility and institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies would experience considerable difficulty.

Developing countries, some of which are already embroiled in military conflict, may be drawn into larger and more protracted disputes over water, energy supplies or food, all of which may disrupt economic growth at a time when developing countries are beset by more egregious manifestations of climate change. It is widely accepted that the detrimental effects of climate change will be visited largely on the countries least equipped to adapt, socially or economically.

Basic rebuttal written by GPWayne


Update July 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

 

Last updated on 5 July 2015 by pattimer. View Archives

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

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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

Comments

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Comments 126 to 150 out of 404:

  1. I am new to this blog but I find this to be very informative, and as a result of reading through it the last few days I have already changed my opinion on this issue, having been solidly in the "global warming is just a natural cycle" camp, to believing that it is actually caused by human activity. Having said that I am not convinced that global warming is actually bad for humans. It does seem to me by reading many other posts/articles that your postings are biased towards the negative side. For example most articles I read suggest that warming will actually increase water supply for agriculture as a whole because of ocean evaporation/rainfall. But your posting concentrates on drought driven by heat and seems to downplay the potential increase in water supply from added rainfall. Also almost all your potential negatives (and to be fair your positives as well), are qualified with the word "may" as in global warming "may do this bad thing". This suggests that even though the science about the cause of global warming may be settled, the science about its predictions is far from that. And this in turn puts a big question mark on the importance of this issue in light of its economic cost.
    Response:

    [DB] "most articles I read suggest that warming will actually increase water supply for agriculture as a whole because of ocean evaporation/rainfall"

    Then I would suggest reading this post then for starters:

    The Dai After Tomorrow

  2. Joseph, Quite impressive analysis for someone who has only been reading this site for a few days. The incluson of the word "may" is usually a reference to the uncertainty of an event, or the lack of data to back up an assertation. For instance, there are those who claim that global warming will lead to more and stronger hurricanses; others fewer, but stronger; some more frequent, but weaker; and others fewer and weaker. The qualifiers often occur in areas of disagreement.
  3. Joseph#126: "qualified with the word "may" as in global warming "may do this bad thing"." Quick and easy answer to that: look at the vicious criticism that comes out whenever a climate scientist makes a specific statement. But a better answer is simply that climate change is about trends, not specific events. You can say 'this is the observed trend; if that continues, here's what can or may happen.' "This suggests that even though the science about the cause of global warming may be settled, the science about its predictions is far from that." What is the 'science of predictions'? "And this in turn puts a big question mark on the importance of this issue in light of its economic cost." Absolutely not. The costs need to be studied as risk-adjusted expected values, which include both most likely and worst case scenarios. The cost of mitigation (reacting after the fact) is almost always far greater than the cost of prevention (or some form adaptation). Consider, for an obvious example, the cost of boarding up and leaving town in advance of a hurricane vs. the risk of loss of life and property damage if you do nothing. On some occasions, you leave town only to find that the storm goes elsewhere, but on another you may have saved your life. If you are not considering the worst case, you make bad decisions. That's basically what we are doing when we say 'the science isn't settled' and therefore 'do nothing.' If we can take action now to reduce the probability of occurrence of the worst case, then we are way ahead in the long run.
  4. Joseph - the disruption to the water cycle is probably the most robust prediction of AGW, but its not a headline grabber. Floods and droughts have proximate causes which make it easier to ignore ultimate causes that increase the frequency. After that is sealevel rise which is dogged by uncertainty in how ice sheets will behave so advisories so far have been extremely conservative. And of course these have been costed - eg the Stern report. There have been attempts to demonstrate a lower cost for GW (eg Lomborg though he has changed his tune) but these only succeed be assuming unrealisticly low climate sensitivity. To be honest, I think we need better studies but the upper end of the uncertainty scale is frightening bad and for policy makers, surely the precautionary principle applies. Is it really that hard to switch away from coal over the next 30-50 years?
  5. Muoncounter #128 "What is the 'science of predictions'?" It's not the science of predictions, it is the science concerning global warming's catastrophic future predictions which seems, at least to me, to have a very wide range of unclear benefits vs. risk, as opposed to the science behind the reasons for the global warming which to me seems settled, as in caused by humans. Also regarding the costs of prevention, I am not sure I agree with your relatively low cost of "boarding up and leaving town" example. I read somewhere on this site that the cost would be as much as 1-2% of GDP!!! That may sound like a low number but any economist would tell you that this is a huge number. The US/Europe seems to have just entered into a long period of slow growth (if not double dip recessions) and an additional 1-2% ball and chain weight on the economy would most likely add even more prolonged recessions/no growth/sustained high unemployment periods. Of course I understand your point of long term cost but playing up the worst case scenario that comes out of global warming when people are economically suffering today makes it difficult for the general public to sign up today for such a big cost for the benefit of our grandchildren. When you couple this with the general public tendency to automatically discount gloom and doom predictions (like the ones from global warming) and environmentalists' history of exaggerated predictions (maybe not on purpose but nevertheless...), as in BP oil spill and Exxon Valdez disaster both turning out to have a much much smaller impact on the medium and long term environment than predicted, that makes it an even tougher pill to swallow. Nature seems to most of us to be a lot more adept at normalizing extreme situations than environmentalists are at predicting them. With all due respect to environmentalists on this site. And in response to #129 sccadenp's question about switching from coal, the answer is no! It's not that hard to switch away from coal...especially if the free market demands it! So if it takes an extra decade or two to educate the general public in order to create the demand for the free market forces as well as give the technologies a chance to catch up, so what? I don't think anyone believes that the world will be past a tipping point because of that extra period.
    Response: [DB] "Nature seems to most of us to be a lot more adept at normalizing extreme situations than environmentalists are at predicting them."

    Most of us? Who would that be? You imply that people who have taken the time to learn the science that think that "there's no problem" outnumber those that do. And you would be wrong to think that.

    Furthermore, the issue with today's CO2 excursion is not so much the amount, which is considerable, but the rate: 10x greater than that which occurred during the PETM.

    For further reading on that which we face given business-as-usual, try reading this post.

  6. Joseph#130: "global warming's catastrophic future predictions" A friendly word of advice: No one but hard-core deniers use 'catastrophic'. "an additional 1-2% ball and chain weight on the economy would most likely add even more prolonged recessions/no growth/sustained high unemployment periods." Really? No job creation via this investment? No new revenue? No new technologies will come out of such investment? No new small businesses? People employed in alternative energy/CO2 mitigation, etc somehow do not buy food, gasoline, clothing? Is it better for them to collect unemployment until that runs out and then go on public assistance? Or is that not part of your equation? "playing up the worst case scenario" Please substantiate 'playing up' in this context. Perhaps you should read Degrees of Risk before issuing such judgements. "BP oil spill and Exxon Valdez disaster both turning out to have a much much smaller impact on the medium and long term environment than predicted" Please substantiate these opinions. Impact of the BP spill, in the form of hypoxic zones in the Gulf, continues to grow. Live oil is still being discovered in Valdez sediments. Less time in the pages of the national review might help.
  7. Joseph, what the science says about predictions for the future is found in AR4. They are very conservative (already wrong) and not in the least way "worst case". If you do not accept this, then perhaps it would be best if you picked a specific prediction from the science and tell us why you think it is wrong (preferably with some science to back it). "when people are economically suffering today" - there will always be people suffering economically. You can use this excuse to delay forever. Under any of these scenarios, these same people are likely to suffer even more if food starts to get really expensive. You also seem to be assuming automatically action will be bad (FF companies surely wish you to believe that). Perhaps have a look at this article. Just as an example, how would killing ALL subsidies on FF and returning to public as tax breaks be bad for you? "tipping point" stuff isn't that scientific. What reports have shown though is that the longer you delay action, the more expensive it gets.
  8. I keep coming upon the "taxation is bad" meme, as Joseph is trying to make the case for. The idea is absurd. Taxation is generally a way to shift cost burdens in order to promote more desired market behavior. It doesn't just suck value out of the economy. What we are talking about is taking the external costs of burning fossil fuels and internalize them into the cost of fossil fuels. What that actually does is level the playing field with other forms of clean energy which don't produce the same external costs. The challenge is that, as time goes on, those external costs grow exponentially. If we don't find a way to capture the costs of burning FFs then they will act like ENRONs off-the-books assets that collapsed that company. Only with this it won't be employee 401k's that take the hit.
  9. I have to respond to this line as well: "Nature seems to most of us to be a lot more adept at normalizing extreme situations than environmentalists are at predicting them." Yes. Nature absolutely does have very clever ways to normalize things. Nature is also quite incognizant of suffering or even survival of any given species. She has no compunction about setting things straight regardless of how the transaction takes place. The real question is, are you willing to bet your children and grand children's well being on the chance that nearly every scientist who does research in this field is somehow getting it wrong?
  10. Rob makes some good points. Please dont confuse published science with Greenpeace. This is a place to talk about the science says, not what environmentalists say.
  11. scaddenp#132: "tipping point stuff isn't that scientific" Joseph's statement was: "I don't think anyone believes that the world will be past a tipping point". The non-scientific part is his personal opinion and his projection of what 'anyone' believes. His opinion remains unsubstantiated - and surely there are some who believe that such tipping points exist and will be breached soon (ex: Arctic ice going, going, gone). Those who rail against 'consensus' and 'settled science' would not allow that kind of thing to go unchallenged.
  12. "Nature seems to most of us to be a lot more adept at normalizing extreme situations than environmentalists are at predicting them." Ah, the dream that if we leave things alone, they'll all return to some pre-designed 'normal' point that happens to be very comfortable for us. As Rob says, what if the 'normalizing' point is one at which you cannot grow as much grain in the great grain belts of the world, because it is too hot/dry/variable moisture? What if the 'normalizing' point makes it uncomfortable/difficult/dangerous to live in many parts of the world. With a new planetary energy balance driven by high CO2, these things are possible. Do you think Nature will care? Nature can be in balance and yet we might really not enjoy it very much... The IPCC is conservative, and does not make 'catastrophic' claims, see for example Freudenberg and Muselli.
  13. muon, fair enough but I was trying to encourage Joseph to read and talk about what the science actually says with some confidence, whereas "tipping points" are more speculative and feature more in environmentalist tracts with varying degrees of accuracy.
  14. Yes, Tipping points are quite speculative, and unless one is talking about species extinxtion, really have no place in this discussion. Whether one is using the term "catastrophic" or "worst case" is really immaterial. Let's face it, if the worst case scenario comes true, it will be catastrophic. Those one feel that the IPCC was conservative, must then believe that the worst case scenario will come true. After all, there "business as usual" scenario shows a further 3.5C temperature increase. It appears to me that Joseph has a firm understanding of the science behind global warming. His concern, which is shared by many of us, is the long term consequences. I believe that he is correct in that many here are focusing on the worst cases possible, and ignoring everything else. Namely, minimizing the economic impact of CO2 mitigation, accelerated sea level rise beyond the current trend, and destructive future agriculture impacts when recent trends have been favorable. There is a rather large disconnect between the current trends and future predictions. Joseph is not the only one with these concerns.
  15. Eric... There is actually a strong likelihood that the market force of actually mitigating the impacts of CO2 will be an economic boom! There is virtually no correlation for the notion that carbon taxes would encumber the economy. It would certainly encumber fossil fuel producers, and I think that is the rub that has this issue at the fever pitch that it's at. But the notion that shifting to sustainable sources of energy would be a drain on economic resources (over the cost of doing nothing) is just not justified in any way. We have the potential - the technology, the know-how and the time - to eventually be producing more abundant energy to more people while not destroying the climate. It's something that isn't just desirable, it's imperative. And it is something that FFs can not possibly accomplish.
  16. That is correct Eric #139, and I apologize for using words like "tipping point" and "catastrophic". I didn't realize they were so inflammatory. Muoncounter #131,"no job creation? Etc..." the studies for the economic cost outlined in this website's article "economic impact of carbon pricing" which I was referring to, already takes into account all the benefits you mention and they still came out with a *net cost* of anywhere from 0.2% of GDP up to an outlier of 3.5% of GDP. And I don't appreciate being stereotyped, FYI, I have never read the national review. Scadenpp #132 I agree that killing subsidies for all FF would be a good thing. Rob #133 taxation IS bad economically speaking, and DOES "suck value out of the economy" no matter how you look at it. Outside forces should not as a general rule be used to "promote more desired market behavior" every time government wants to accomplish a political goal, as implied in your post. Having said that I do agree that there is a role for government for regulating market behavior, and that role should be used sparingly. But we are going off topic now. Rob #134. "The real question is, are you willing to bet your children and grand children's well being on the chance that nearly every scientist who does research in this field is somehow getting it wrong?". Again I am not saying that scientists are getting it wrong. I just see that the predictions they are making have a wide range of positives like "Improved agriculture in some high latitude regions (Mendelsohn 2006)" as well as negatives. So the way I would phrase the question is "would I be willing to bet my children's well being (because of the GDP cost to remediation) to *maybe* saving my grand children's well being? The GDP cost is a tangible to my kids' well being, if it causes me to be out of work, I can't send them to college. My kids will win this argument over my unborn grand-children any day of the week. The point that I am trying to make is that the cost associated with the proposed solutions for global warming, when compared to an uncertain benefit (as Eric said there is "a disconnect between the current trends and the predictions") makes global warming solutions a tough sell. Wouldn't be better to wait 1-2 decades to have free market forces drive the solutions at no cost to taxpayers instead of forcing a 1-2% GDP cost on the economy, especially at a time when the economy is growing at about....the same rate?! Again, I am not saying that I don't believe that GHG (whether it is amount or rate) aren't causing global warming, so Mr. Moderator please don't refer me to more CO2 studies, this website has already won me over as a convert in that regard.
  17. Joseph#141: "economic impacts of carbon pricing" You are referring to this thread. The figures in that thread's Table 1 are mostly less than 1% (only Lieberman-Warner has a high side of 2.15%). Immediately below that is the google.org study showing an increase in GDP. Surely a clever tax structure could offset the cost to individuals. No such structure exists to offset the costs of BAU. Please take further discussion of purely economic issues to that thread.
  18. Muoncounter #142 "Please take further discussion of purely economic issues to that thread." I would agree with that if my discussion is purely economical. But it isn't. It is interconnected with the topic of this thread. My point is that the economical point becomes an issue only in light if the uncertainty of the positives and negatives discussed above, and vice versa. As a matter of fact if I took my discussion to the thread you refer to, I might get get a similar reply saying, "please take this topic to the positive and negative thread"!
  19. Rob #140 "We have the potential - the technology, the know-how and the time - to eventually be producing more abundant energy to more people while not destroying the climate. It's something that isn't just desirable, it's imperative. And it is something that FFs can not possibly accomplish." Agreed completely, but I suspect you are asking that the solution be government imposed or led, where I would advocate a free market solution.
  20. Joseph#143: "the economical point becomes an issue only in light if the uncertainty of the positives and negatives" All sciences always have uncertainties. By your logic, the economic point is thus always an issue. So that's a non-starter. If you want to reference points made on another thread (as you did here) in a discussion here, include a link to that other thread or do a limited cut and paste. Your point about large negative impacts to GDP did not hold up to scrutiny. Do you have other information of a purely economic nature to offer? If so, make your point with references that can be examined and discussed. That's what we all expect of scientific discussion; why expect any less for economic discussion?
  21. Joseph... No one is talking about "government imposed" anything. In fact, all the proposed taxation IS market based. There is nothing anti-free market about taxation. In fact, when I listen to renewable energy people speak they all say the only thing they want is a level playing field on which to openly compete with their emerging energy technologies. The anti-free market people are the folks who want to stifle their march into the market place. Believe me, big business can be the amazingly anathema to competition.
  22. Joseph. If you want any further economic evidence about the value (and/or the cost to taxpayers) of mitigation activity, follow the links given in these 2 items. Green jobs, American exports. The thing that struck me most forcibly was the much cheaper cost of creating green jobs versus creating jobs in the fossils sector.
  23. Joseph... What you have to remember is, some of the most prosperous times in the US have been periods of high taxation. That didn't harm the free market in any way. I would hold that very low taxation is actually more harmful to the free market because it acts to consolidate wealth into the fewest hands. The taxation of carbon is more likely to generate a positive net economic outcome. I don't think that would have been the case 30 years ago. Today is different. Technologies are ready and advancing further. These new industries merely need a level playing field on which to compete with the highly entrenched legacy energy industries.
  24. #139: "There is a rather large disconnect between the current trends and future predictions." There is sometimes a disconnect. Some trends are progressing faster than predicted.
  25. #149 skywatcher Example of predictions vs current trends disconnect: below is a quote by the scientists who predicted the disappearance of the snows of Kilimanjaro by 2015 “The glaciers are still shrinking, and in the next decades they will almost certainly disappear, but it will probably be on the order of three or four decades, maybe five,” Hardy said recently. “But we don’t know for sure. It might be in only two.” Here is the full article
    Response: [RH] Hot linked article.

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