A Wicked Orthodoxy
Global-warming alarmism is not merely irrational.



But let us assume that the global temperature hiatus does, at some point, come to an end, and a modest degree of global warming resumes. How much does this matter?

The answer must be that it matters very little. There are plainly both advantages and disadvantages from a warmer temperature, and these will vary from region to region depending to some extent on the existing temperature in the region concerned. And it is helpful in this context that the climate scientists believe that the global warming they expect from increased atmospheric CO2 will be greatest in the cold polar regions and least in the warm tropical regions, and will be greater at night than in the day, and greater in winter than in summer. Be that as it may, studies have clearly shown that, overall, the warming that the climate models are now predicting for most of this century (I referred to these models earlier, and will come back to them later) is likely to do more good than harm. 

This is particularly true in the case of human health, a rather important dimension of wellbeing. It is no accident that, if you look at migration for climate reasons in the world today, it is far easier to find those who choose to move to a warmer climate than those who choose to move to a colder climate. And it is well documented that excessive cold causes far more illnesses and deaths around the world than excessive warmth does.

The latest (2013–14) IPCC Assessment Report does its best to ramp up the alarmism in a desperate, and almost certainly vain, attempt to scare the governments of the world into concluding a binding global decarbonization agreement at the crunch U.N. climate conference due to be held in Paris next year. Yet a careful reading of the report shows that the evidence to justify the alarm simply isn’t there.

On health, for example, it lamely concludes that “the world-wide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors and is not well quantified” — adding that so far as tropical diseases (which preoccupied earlier IPCC reports) are concerned, “Concerns over large increases in vector-borne diseases such as dengue as a result of rising temperatures are unfounded and unsupported by the scientific literature.”

Moreover, the IPCC conspicuously fails to take proper account of what is almost certainly far and away the most important dimension of the health issue. And that is, quite simply, that the biggest health risk in the world today, particularly of course in the developing world, is poverty. 

We use fossil fuels not because we love them, or because we are in thrall to the multinational oil companies, but simply because they provide far and away the cheapest source of large-scale energy, and will continue to do so, no doubt not forever, but for the foreseeable future. And using the cheapest source of energy means achieving the fastest practicable rate of economic development, and thus the fastest elimination of poverty in the developing world. In a nutshell, and on balance, global warming is good for you.

The IPCC does its best to contest this by claiming that warming is bad for food production: In its own words, “negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts.” But not only does it fail to acknowledge that the main negative impact on crop yields has been not climate change but climate-change policy, as farmland has been turned over to the production of biofuels rather than food crops. It also understates the net benefit for food production from the warming it expects to occur, in two distinct ways. 

In the first place, it explicitly takes no account of any future developments in bio-engineering and genetic modification, which are likely to enable farmers to plant drought-resistant crops designed to thrive at warmer temperatures, should these occur. Second, and equally important, it takes no account whatever of another effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and one which is more certain and better documented than the warming effect. Namely, the stimulus to plant growth: what the scientists call the “fertilization effect.” Over the past 30 years or so, the earth has become observably greener, and this has even affected most parts of the Sahel. It is generally agreed that a major contributor to this has been the growth in atmospheric CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels.

This should not come as a surprise. Biologists have always known that carbon dioxide is essential for plant growth, and of course without plants there would be very little animal life, and no human life, on the planet. The climate alarmists have done their best to obscure this basic scientific truth by insisting on describing carbon emissions as “pollution” — which, whether or not they warm the planet they most certainly are not — and deliberately mislabeling forms of energy that produce these emissions as “dirty.” 

In the same way, they like to label renewable energy as “clean,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that by far the largest source of renewable energy in the world today is biomass, and in particular the burning of dung, which is the major source of indoor pollution in the developing world and is reckoned to cause at least a million deaths a year.

Compared with the likely benefits to both human health and food production from CO2-induced global warming, the possible disadvantages from, say, a slight increase in either the frequency or the intensity of extreme weather events is very small beer. It is, in fact, still uncertain whether there is any impact on extreme-weather events as a result of warming (increased carbon emissions, which have certainly occurred, cannot on their own affect the weather: it is only warming which might). The unusual persistence of heavy rainfall over the U.K. during February, which led to considerable flooding, is believed by the scientists to have been caused by the wayward behavior of the jetstream; and there is no credible scientific theory that links this behaviour to the fact that the earth’s surface is some 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer than it was 150 years ago.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review