Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Global Warming: the Good Side

Ah, fuck 'em.

Hi guys, it's been a while. Because I'm out in the Far East again, researching articles on Gecko Vodka (and other Weird Drinks), Black Magic in Thai Politics, and the Vicious Muslim Insurgency on the Thai-Malay Border. And I'm writing my memoirs, second volume.

Life is never dull. Especially not when you are about to enter a civil war zone, like that in Yala province, 500 klicks south of Bangkok. Twenty seven bombs went off thereyesterday. Yup - 27. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, here's a spot of cheering environmental hackwork that I did for online magazine thefirstpost.

The Advantages of Global Warming

Belief in global warming is nowadays almost universal, and for a good reason. The evidence exists. But there is another widespread belief which is less justifiable: that global warming will have only negative effects.

Consider the distant past. Two hundred million years ago the earth was much warmer than it is now: dinosaurs roamed the Antarctic, which was then lush and tropical. No one claims that this warming was terrible for velociraptors. So why is a warmer earth seen as a disaster for man?

Of course, we all know global warming is going to cause dislocation. Increased storminess, desertification, and inundation from raised sea-levels are serious and understandable fears. There will inevitably be major costs as we adapt to our new environment. But maybe there will be swift and enormous gains as well.

One look at a world map shows that vast tracts of land - in Siberia and Canada, in Tibet and elsewhere - are at present too cold for widespread cultivation and settlement. With global warming these regions of the earth will, presumably, become fruitful.

But you wouldn't know it by listening to the doomsayers of climate change. The way some people speak about global warming, and the damage it will wreak on the status quo, it's almost as if tundra and glaciers are intrinsically good things.

These global warming benefits might stretch further south. In Britain, areas that are now windy and cold - highland Scotland, the Pennines, Dartmoor - should become more hospitable. Intriguingly, Dartmoor was once fertile and widely settled, so this won't be the first time. Farmers will probably have longer growing periods, British summers will be drier and brighter, and so forth.

We are also told that many species will die out because of global warming. But can we know this for sure? It is arguable that many species will adapt, and previously threatened species may thrive. That, after all, is the Theory of Evolution. What is bad for snowgeese could be great for hummingbirds.

Such claims may sound like wishful thinking. But many experts are ready to think along similar lines.

One of the most prominent is Thomas Moore, an economist at Stanford University. He's studied the potential impact of global warning and shown that death rates might actually decrease - as bronchitis, influenza, and other cold-weather ailments decline. A warmer world will also need less fuel for heating. And crop failures might become a thing of the past at higher latitudes.

Likewise, climatologist Bjorn Lomberg has talked about the upside, when those vast northerly areas (Canada and Siberia, etc) become cultivatable. Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, takes an even broader perspective: "From a purely evolutionary point of view, warm periods have been exceptionally good to mankind. Cold periods have been the troublesome ages."

The Arctic Council is another authority seeing benefits in a warmer planet. Oil and gas deposits hidden under ice will become accessible. Previously frozen sea lanes will open up: it is estimated that the sea-journey from Tokyo to London will be reduced by twelve days. The fabled Northwest passage, over the top of Canada, will finally be a reality. Grass has already started growing in the Antarctic, for the first time in many thousands of years.

There's more. Storms may become more widespread, but extra rainfall could benefit drought-stricken areas. In other regions, marshes will dry out and become lucrative farmland. As for the threatened spread of malaria, and other diseases, this may be an overblown problem. Singapore is in the tropics yet has low malaria rates: it's all about hygiene and sanitation, says Moore.

Will global warming ultimately be good or bad? The truthful answer is: no one knows. But 'The end of the world is nigh' makes a much better headline.


Dave said...

It's the tiny-dicked Kiwi here - look, I hate to do this, but I have to. I have finally read your book (I never claimed I had, just used the cover pic) and it's really good. I feel a very painful public retraction of my claim that it is rubbish coming on.
dave@stripeyjumper.com is the email if you wish to heap further abuse on me.

Anonymous said...


I have sent you an email but my email service is schizo at the moment, let me know if you hear nothing.

It was basically a warm friendly and grateful message between fellow internet-dating-based writers.