A Contrarian’s View: In Praise of Global Warming

I really don’t know whether the globe is warming. Most scientists believe it is, so I guess I’ll take their word for it.

I certainly don’t know whether, if the earth is warming, human beings are responsible for it. I do know that over geological time the Earth has cooled off and then warmed up again in ways that were far more dramatic than anything environmental scientists are predicting: one need only think of the many ice ages and then the huge warm-ups that followed and eventually melted the ice. But again, I will take the scientists’ word that human beings are at least partly responsible for the present warm-up.

What really concerns me, though, is what scientists and politicians say about the consequences of global warming. It is accepted almost as an article of faith that global warming is an unbridled, unmitigated disaster for the planet. This position was brought home to me by a documentary, narrated in the most somber, apocalyptic tones, about the fate of two polar bears in the frozen North. The documentary appeared to show that as the Arctic Circle was becoming warmer, the polar bears’ habitat was shrinking. In one sequence, the ice was literally melting beneath the bears’ feet and the bears’ future seemed, at best, problematical.

As I watched these poor creatures staring into the abyss, the first thought I had was how long it must have taken the film-makers to find such emblematic victims of global warming; after all, the Arctic hasn’t disappeared, at least not yet, and most polar bears will be quite safe for the foreseeable future. But then another thought occurred to me: here I was, watching a couple of bears whose icy world was about to dissolve, but I could see no other animals in the picture and, indeed, no plant life at all.

While species like polar bears and penguins seem to have adapted to extremely cold temperatures, most other animals and certainly most humans have not. By contrast, a wide variety of animals and plants have prospered in the more temperate climates of the U.S. and Western Europe, while jungles in the hottest parts of the Earth are literally teeming with life. It would seem that warmth is in many important ways associated with life, while cold is, more often than not, associated with death.

If anyone wishes to question this, let him start by speaking to the many citizens of the frigid Dakotas who have migrated to the warmer suburbs of Southern California or the almost tropical cities of Florida. Obviously, such migrants weren’t willing to wait around for global warming to kick in and had chosen to warm up their own world right away.

Of course, with global warming, as with so much else, you can always have too much of a good thing. But perhaps a certain amount of global warming would be a net benefit for the Earth and not a net loss.

Why, I wonder, do we assume that the present temperature of the Earth is precisely the right one — not too hot, not too cold, just perfect? What if a somewhat warmer temperature were, in fact, a gift to the planet? With the Earth’s growing population, do we not look longingly at the huge expanses of land in the northern parts of Canada and Siberia which are now uninhabitable but which could be opened to human habitation if the climate were more temperate? Think of the enormous number of crops that could be grown in those areas if the ground were not nearly always frozen.

Undoubtedly, there would be losers in the warming of the Earth: animals like our hapless polar bears, who had successfully adapted to the extreme cold, might well lose out. But one look at the riot of animal and plant species found in even the hottest of climates suggests that, on balance, there would be many more winners than losers in the great global warm-up.

So, the next time you find yourself suffering through another blisteringly cold winter, or slithering along on a veritable skating rink of snow and ice, be of good cheer: the global warming we have all been taught to fear will soon arrive and save us from our apocalyptic obsessions and our only too human inability to know a good thing when we see one.

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