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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 401 to 404 out of 404:

  1. DPiepgrass, (and with my apology for multi-paragraph reply) :

    @400 , you ask: What is the source of this claim  [which I paraphrase as: that in the future we can expect heatwaves to cause five times as many deaths than the warmer clime would reduce cold-caused deaths].

    As you point out, the Basic / Intermediate / Advanced versions of the OP are considerably different.  Not different in a contradictory way . . . but different.  (Like very condensed versions of non-identical essays.)

    In the Basic version, the quantified "five times" is carried along in a single sentence.  It gives the impression - at first glance - that "heat deaths" would be five times the "cold deaths".  But on closer reading , that is not the actual meaning written ~ as I hope my expansion [in square brackets, above] can convey with more precision.

    Worse, the very following sentence tends to imply that a significant portion of these heatwave deaths include an insect-vector disease linkage.  Though it does not actually convey that.

    It is all too condensed, for it to be capable of a knowledge-full conveying of information.  Quite possibly it would be correct ~ yet it is unsupported within the Article.

    DPiepgrass , I do not think I can concisely answer the question behind your question.  Are/will heat deaths be exceeding cold-caused deaths?  Obviously the answer must stretch across a wide spectrum  ~ of degrees of climate warming ; of frequencies / extents / and intensities of heat waves ; of regional localities.  It would be a very difficult task to scientifically assess the outcomes even in hindsight , let alone in future projection.  Speaking for myself, I would not like to touch the task even with a 12.2 meter barge pole.

  2. DPiepgrass :  (to continue)

    Allow me to add a little anecdote : On another forum (not nearly so calm, logical and scientific as this one) there is a certain frequent poster who very often states that hospital / coroner / & other studies show that currently cold is a far greater threat to humanity, because cold deaths greatly exceed heat deaths.  And as he never fails to mention, his own name is in authorship on one of these studies.

    Eventually I found this too tiresome, so I followed his citation(s)  . . . and there was some truth to his claims (though limited to data from three small regions).   And as I followed, his cited studies referenced other studies, and they in turn led to other studies ~ many of which came to the opposite conclusion i.e. that heat deaths are greater than cold deaths.

    I threw my hands in the air, for there were many confounding factors of tropical/non-tropical ; urban/rural ; First World / Third World regions.  Not to mention the validity of reportage and sampling.

    So, DPiepgrass , we will have to fall back on some armchair speculation on these matters, rather than use scientific precision.  Whatever the present-day circumstances, my "bet" would be that a hotter world will increasingly progress to kill more frail elderly living in poverty ( in the Global South, versus the Global North ).

    Good luck finding a comfortable armchair plus a Socrates/Aristotle.

  3. dpiepgrass & Eclectic

    If you don't mind, could you please use the Google form linked above in the "Argument feedback" box to provide this feedback on the rebuttal? It's then easier for us to track instead of trying via the comment threads. Thanks!

  4. DPiepgrass @400,

    The accounting of deaths due to hot/cold weather is not at all easy. While I have no idea as to the source of the OP statement "deaths attributable to heatwaves are expected to be approximately five times as great as winter deaths prevented," there is a source that puts the 'prevented' total across 49 large US cities at 100/y while projecting "that changes in extreme hot and extreme cold temperatures would result in 9,300 additional premature deaths per year by 2090."  So that is approaching a whopping 100-to-1.

    But, to repeat, the assessment of the level of death due to hot/cold weather is not a straightforward exercise. If you're curious as to why that would be, see this Jeff Masters web-page (which does mention the numbers yielding that 100-to-1 finding), an account that sets out some of the difficulties.

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