Global Warming – a Good Thing?

Bjorn Lomborg has an interesting new article in the Telegraph,
No one ever says it, but in many ways global warming will be a good thing.

This seems to have been prompted by the recent story of “global greening”, thought to be caused mainly by increasing carbon dioxide levels but with warming playing a role at higher latitudes. See press releases here and Nature paper here. Bishop Hill said when the paper came out “to get alarmists to admit this is good news will, I suspect, be like pulling hen’s teeth”, which has turned out to be correct.  Lomborg notes that the activist-biased media either tried to spin the story as bad news, such as the notorious Roger Harrabin at the BBC, or failed to report it at all — I have been unable to find the story at the Guardian, for example. The tendency of the IPCC to downplay this, while emphasizing the risks of floods and droughts, led to a twitter dispute between Steve McIntyre and Richard Betts.

Lomborg says that “our climate conversation is lopsided”, with the media keen to promote negative stories, while “any mention of positives is frowned upon”. The news media, of course, love stories of crisis, doom and disaster, which sell papers (or, these days, advertising space on web pages), but aren’t really interested in anything that suggests things might turn out quite nice, or that nothing much is happening at all. The net result is that the average member of the public gets a misleading impression of climate change, something that the climate scientists aboard the gravy train make little attempt to correct.

As well as the greening effect, Lomborg mentions the fact that more people die from cold than from heat, another issue that tends to be swept under the carpet. According to a recent paper in The Lancet, “heat causes almost one-half of one percent of all deaths, while more than 7 percent are caused by cold.”

The problem isn’t just with bias in the media, but with the attitude of some senior scientists as well. Lomborg criticises the lopsided letter by Lord Krebs calling on The Times to stop publishing articles about the exaggeration of climate change. He points out the double standards: “it is revealing that such campaigners don’t send out similar letters to correct the daily deluge of alarmist stories”. I made the same point in the comments at the Conversation, where in response a desperate climate scientist tried to claim that an article by John Vidal channelling Naomi Klein, “Climate change is corroding our values”, wasn’t about climate change.

The response of the climate activist community to Lomborg’s piece was ironic and predictable. A recently established climate propaganda site calling itself “Climate Feedback”, which claims to provide comments from the “expertise of the scientific community” on media articles but is really just another outlet for a familiar bunch of alarmist scientists, decided to attack his article, even going so far as to accuse him of violating ethics.

The irony is of course that “Climate Feedback” is just another example of the lopsidedness Lomborg is talking about. Two articles by Lomborg are attacked, while shrieking scaremongering from Andrew Freedman and Chris Mooney is praised.

From a historical perspective, it’s interesting that in the past, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a warmer climate was a good thing and that a colder climate was bad. Only in the last 30 years or so, as climate science became a huge political bandwagon, was this reversed. But that’s a subject for a future post.

21 thoughts on “Global Warming – a Good Thing?

  1. Good work Paul. If (as has been argued in the pages of organs far more prestigious than our humble blog) man-made climate change has already averted a glacial age, then my only quibble with your post is the question mark at the end of the title.

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  2. Greening is sort of baked in to climate science understanding of the effects of increased CO2. The biospehere is absorbing half of all anthropogenic emissions and has been for decades – odd but seemingly true. That CO2 has to go somewhere if it is absorbed, so it is to be expected that some goes into more leaves, bigger plants and such, just as some goes into acidifying the oceans.

    Incidentally, there is an interesting new visualization of OCO2 results of CO2 concentrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFeaBDavzSY

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  3. Anthony misrepresents the last part of the twitter conversation between Steve & myself by saying I came back – my comment “I could go on but I have work to do” was indeed my final tweet, and the ones he shows underneath were before that. This can be confirmed by looking at the time stamps of the tweets, and indeed you can quite clearly see that the lower ones were 4 hours old by the time Anthony took his screen capture, while the upper ones were only 3 hours old.

    So, I didn’t come back like Anthony thought.

    However, on the wider topic, I am glad that we’ve finally got past the issue of whether anthropogenic climate change exists and on to the more important and interesting debate of what it actually means. Your post of last week was quite good in that respect, I quite liked it.

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  4. Well done Lomborg, and well done Paul for drawing attention to his article.

    There’s a thread I started a few years at BH Discussion called the Moral and Intellectual Poverty of Climate Alarm ( http://www.bishop-hill.net/discussion/post/2101561)

    I think I’d call it CO2 Alarm today, since it is not unreasonable for some people some of the time to be alarmed about climatic threats of various kinds. The possibility of colder weather in mid-latitudes dropping our crop yields for many decades is one such. Anyway, there has been a wee flurry of postings there recently, and I happened to re-read my launching comment where I found a couple of chunks relevant here:

    ‘The basic mechanism of gentle warming by rising CO2 has been noted for over 100 years, and has until recently generally been seen as both speculative in realised details, and generally beneficial. This applied right into the late 1970s at least, as evidenced by the US government sponsored survey of expert opinion ‘Climate Change to the Year 2000’, published in the 1970s. The most extreme warming scenario there was not at all alarming other than predicting drought in the one country best equipped to cope with it, the USA. Most other places saw benefits, e.g. extended growing season, fewer monsoon failures, and more. Somehow, without any breakthrough in scientific knowledge that I am aware of, this was transformed into what some have called the greatest crisis we have ever faced. How come? ‘

    And later on:

    ‘In my opinion, these problems were elevated to global crisis level by the orchestrations of the IPCC and others. Only a handful of not particularly impressive scientists, geographers, and computer modellers were involved in the ’causes of climate change’ corner as opposed to the thousands looking at effects, real or projected, of such change.

    Lubos Motl has some harsh words about the physics side of things here: http://motls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/dyson-climatologists-are-no-einsteins.html .

    He notes in his usual vivid style that the best physicists have never been drawn to meteorology nor climatology. Of course, there are excellent people to be found in those fields, often attracted to them from an early age by being fascinated by the sky. Let me just mention some whose surnames happen to begin with L. Lindzen is an example. The late Frank Ludlam is another. And of course the late Hubert Lamb came across both as a decent man, and a dedicated scholar of climate history. Lorenz was a fourth who produced deep insights. There are no doubt many more good men and women in science who would or do seem admirable to me in these areas, and many who, often from outside scientific endeavours, have appeared to help clarify what has been happening in particular instances. Continuing down the alphabet to the Ms, I think of McIntyre, McKitrick, Monckton, and Montford. But any such list is pernicious unless exhaustive and I do not have the knowledge for that.’

    It is indeed an odd thing that a gentle, overwhelmingly beneficial, overall ‘global warming’ of the past 150 years or so has been transformed into a doom-laden threat. Odd, and unimpressive.

    As for Prof Betts saying ‘we’ve finally got past the issue of whether anthropogenic climate change exists and on to the more important and interesting debate of what it actually means’. I hope you are not trying to claim such high ground as your own when it has been long occupied by leading sceptical commentators from the onset. On the one hand I am shocked to think that is just what you are doing, but on the other, it is good to see you appear here and join in our chats!

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  5. John Shade, when you say that anthropogenic climate change exists, are you confirming that you agree to there being a significant possibility that temperatures will rise several degrees more? Or do you have a more constrained understanding?

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  6. Well, a message from Raff to greet me. I don’t know if he or she or them is one person or a collective. I suspect he/she/they live in the eastern side of the Americas given that comments from that source mostly appear in the afternoons and evenings over here. But no matter.

    Do I think there is ‘a significant possibility that temperatures will rise several degrees more?’ or, and strange alternative it is, do I have ‘a more constrained understanding’?

    Time to get into patient mode.

    The first option really deserves to have timescales attached. For example, since we are living in an Ice Age, albeit in a congenial interglacial phase of it, I think it is extremely likely that temperatures will rise some degrees more. The planet seems mostly to have been warmer, and mostly to have been free of icecaps, so for that reason alone – just the reason of what has been most commonplace – such a rise seems inevitable. It may even get underway within less a million years from now. In the meantime, I can’t help but notice that our congenial interglacial has lasted about the full term of previous such events in this Ice Age, so a substantial cooling may well be on the cards soon – you know, with icesheets over the North American Shield and most of the UK for example – and that would come first. Even within our lovely interglacial, we have largely been cooling over the past several thousand years, and that’s not so good. But let’s get down to patterns over many hundreds of years – Roman Optimum, MWP, LIA kind of thing. There are folks about who see our recovery from the LIA as about to turn into a return to a new one, maybe for a few decades, maybe for a few hundred years, and who am I to dismiss these concerns given there are some grounds for them? Coming down to decades, we do have the somewhat untidy patterns in sea surface temperatures, notably the AMO – also suggesting a bit of cooling ahead, and a new La Nina possible sometime soonish to add to that. So, there you go. I do see significant possibility of temperatures rising, and I also see significant possibility of them falling. As for CO2, it never seems to have been a big driver of global temperatures in the past, and there is not much sign of it being one now, although we might hold out hope for a bit more warming from it yet. So far, the benefits of the rising ambient levels have largely been in increasing crop yields, and greening things up in general, and these are not be scoffed at.

    The second option puzzles me. Of course I admit constraints on my understanding. I have always found physics difficult, and I never did manage to make a career out of it for very long at a time. I was never great at it, and, in support of the rather frank comments made by Motl in the link I gave in an earlier comment, in a way that encouraged me to look around and in due course study atmospheric physics. I loved it, but I was not convinced it could help with climate predictions and world poverty (my big preoccupation at the time). So more mundane stuff followed for me, but rewarding enough for the brain and spirit and for meeting good people, and to keep a roof over my head into retirement. But I don’t see my ‘constrained understanding’ as an alternative to believing in the possibility of rising temperatures.

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  7. That is a rather verbose way of saying that, far from occupying any “high ground” of accepting that anthropogenic climate change exists and debating what it actually means, you are stuck in the rut of trying to avoid discussing anthropogenic change in favour of all kinds of historic or supposed future change due to anything but CO2. Rather crude greenhouse effect denial wrapped up in pseudo-erudite prose, in short.

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  8. BTW, just as linking extreme events directly to AGW is difficult, this:

    So far, the benefits of the rising ambient levels have largely been in increasing crop yields…

    must be rather difficult to prove.

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  9. Just a hunch, but I feel that demonstrating an increase in crop yields over the last several decades, concurrent with and very likely caused by – increased atmospheric CO2, global and regional increases in temperature, and generally extended growing seasons – will probably be easier than demonstrating that future global warming will seriously diminish crop yields.

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  10. Richard,

    “I am glad that we’ve finally got past the issue of whether anthropogenic climate change exists and on to the more important and interesting debate of what it actually means”

    “We’ve” still got some debating left to do, I’m afraid—in the sense that “we” still have a diversity of positions on the reality or otherwise of AGW. (Sorry, but “anthropogenic climate change” is a bit of a wishy-washy truism!)

    I share your taste (in that I also think it’s more interesting to debate what it means) but I think it’s premature to *absolutely* rule out the possibility that it’s not real, and therefore means nothing at all. Incidentally, I become less and less sure that it’s real every time Ken and his pals (or Oreskes and her epigones, to put it another way) crank out a consensus study arguing to that effect. The resort to psephomancy rather screams “we don’t have any evidence whatsoever.”

    Anyway, “even if” is a hallowed, useful and time-tested mode of discourse.

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  11. Brad, not just Rice and Oreskes – when climate scientists over-hype their own research and then try to blame the media, see next post, one does have to wonder if anything they say can be believed.

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  12. RAFF: “are you confirming that you agree to there being a significant possibility that temperatures will rise several degrees more?”

    NO

    Man can no more SIGNIFICANTLY alter the temperature of the planet than SIGNIFICANTLY alter the time the Sun rises and sets.

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  13. When the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Endangerment Rule Proposal concerning greenhouse gases in the Federal Register in April, 2009, allowing for public comment, I submitted multiple responses. The latter, although far more comprehensive, very much mirrored Lomborg’s article, although the data I assembled was from 7 years ago. Brief summaries of several arguments I provided were:

    A) From published data available via the US Center for Disease Control for the period 2003 thru 2007, during the 4 coldest months of the year (December thru March) in the US there were an average of 26,400 more deaths/month when compared to the 4 warmest months of the year (June thru September), or >12% increase in mortality during cold months vs. warm months; i.e., cold kills.

    B) At that time there was already a NASA article (published in Science Vol 300:1560-1563, 2003) which reported a satellite study revealing a 6.2% increase in global vegetative plant mass during the period 1982-1999; i.e., the global greening was already recognized prior to 2009.

    C) I cited multiple references to studies demonstrating increased yields of grains, vegetables, trees and flowers in response to elevated CO2 levels, and I particularly cited S.H. Wittwer’s 1995 book: Food, Climate, and Carbon Dioxide. Greenhouse cultivation supplemented with CO2 enriched air was a well established, multi-billion dollar/year business at the beginning of the 21st Century.

    I know that many other individuals, not to mention organizations, responded to the EPA Proposal in a similar fashion, but the EPA laughed us off and responded with political and legal double talk. The decision had been made long before going through the required legal masturbation.

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  14. Like climate – if you’re going to go over the cliff it’s best to be in a big expensive job with lots of airbags and maybe the cliff is really just a ditch. After all the passenger has been screaming CLIFF, every few hundred yards for the last few miles and you’ve only seen gently rolling hills. You’re beginning to wonder if they can read the mapps correctly but clearly they’re a nervous traveller. Much more of this and they’re getting out and walking.

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  15. Dr Betts, you try the ‘can we move on’ trick every six months. The answer’s still ‘no’ because the amount of warming and what effect it will have actually matters to what you do about it. If on the other hand you think throwing money into the wind and hoping a) it’s neccesary and b) the wind god will miraculously give you something useful in return for the sacrifice, then carry on as you are.

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  16. “Deniers are weird people. Does it matter how nice your car is if you are driving off a cliff?”

    Milady,
    Another ‘drive by’ comment…this time with an actual reference to ‘driving a car’. A Freudian slip perhaps? Surely you ‘drive’ on the ‘Left’ side of the highway…or perhaps there is a deeper subconscious meaning evident in the phrase ‘driving off a cliff’ and its association with lemmings and ‘Population Control’.

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  17. The Climate Feedback attack article is opinion about projected costs of warming, by climatologists and academic environmentalists. The nearest to actual figures is criticizing when Lomborg quotes a study that projects hurricane damage will get worse and more costly by 2100. But growth will be faster, so costs will reduce from 0.04% to 0.02% of GWP. Response
    Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT:

    According to the Nature Climate Change study, “Climate change is expected to cause global tropical cyclone damage to increase by US$53 billion per year” by 2100. Although it is true that Gross World Product (GWP) is expected to rise faster, it does not necessarily do so in the same places that storm damage increases. There is much uncertainty in both the tropical cyclone projections (discussed in the Nature Climate Change paper) and in GWP projections, but in any case, increasing damage from tropical cyclones is nothing to celebrate.

    With current Gross World Product at about $75 trillion, the projection is for hurricane damage costs to double and GWP to rise 4 times. Even then, the growth estimates are low, averaging about 1.7% per annum, compared with maybe 3-4% in the last 20 years. At 3% growth global output in 2100 would be 12 times the levels of 2015.

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  18. An aspect to consider is what Lomborg calls resilience. An indicator is earthquake fatality rates. The Haiti Earthquake of 2009 was the most deadly in recent times. The Japanese earthquake was about the strongest every record with a huge tsunami afterwards. In Japan had a tenth of the causalities (still horrific at nearly 20,000). By Japan has recovered far better than Haiti.
    More important is damage to food supply. With globalized food production and intensive farming techniques, people are not nearly so vulnerable to increasingly violent and variable weather. What is key is adaptability and competitive approaches – a continuation of the last few decades in fact. That might come at a cost, but even with low global economic growth rates it is unlikely that food costs would rise as a percentage of income as a result.
    However, this is all hypothetical and very unlikely given that the short-term prophesies of the last few years have been all wrong – or at least to my knowledge.

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  19. “That is a rather verbose way of saying that, far from occupying any “high ground” of accepting that anthropogenic climate change exists and debating what it actually means, you are stuck in the rut of trying to avoid discussing anthropogenic change in favour of all kinds of historic or supposed future change due to anything but CO2. Rather crude greenhouse effect denial wrapped up in pseudo-erudite prose, in short.”

    Raff prefers crappy Micky Mouse maths derived from those few measurable parts of a system whose dynamics are far from understood. I guess I prefer solid thought rather than crappy, infantile playing around with made-up numbers. “Sing if you’re glad not to be Raff or ATTP”, as Tom Robinson nearly sang back in the 70s.

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