Here’s something you’re unlikely to see in an American newspaper or magazine: global warming might actually be good for the planet and its inhabitants.
This radical idea was advanced Monday by the German magazine Der Spiegel which did something I can’t imagine a U.S. publication having the nerve to do in this highly politicized environment: offer readers a comprehensive, balanced view of the pluses and minuses inherent in a warming earth.
How delightfully extraordinary.
Unlike most American media reports on this issue, Spiegel, in an article ironically titled "Not the End of the World as We Know It," wonderfully began with a little history on the subject to put things in a proper perspective (emphasis added throughout):
Svante Arrhenius, the father of the greenhouse effect, would be called a heretic today. Far from issuing the sort of dire predictions about climate change which are common nowadays, the Swedish physicist dared to predict a paradise on earth for humans when he announced, in April 1896, that temperatures were rising -- and that it would be a blessing for all.
Arrhenius, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, calculated that the release of carbon dioxide -- or carbonic acid as it was then known -- through burning coal, oil and natural gas would lead to a significant rise in temperatures worldwide. But, he argued, "by the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates," potentially making poor harvests and famine a thing of the past.
Doesn’t sound like what soon-to-be-Dr. Al Gore and his band of not-so merry alarmists are proffering as they travel the world spreading doom and gloom on the subject, does it?
Regardless, Spiegel addressed how previous cold periods – including the Little Ice Age that began in the 1300s – caused temperatures that:
...were too low for grain crops to mature. Famines and epidemics raged, and average life expectancy dropped by 10 years. In Germany, thousands of villages were abandoned and entire stretches of land depopulated.
The shock produced by the cold was as deep-seated it was long-lasting. When temperatures plunged unexpectedly once again in the 1960s, many meteorologists were quick to warn people about the coming of a new ice age -- supposedly triggered by man-made air pollution. Hardly anyone at the time believed a warming trend could pose a threat.
It was not until the rise of the environmental movement in the 1980s that everything suddenly changed. From then on it was almost a foregone conclusion that global warming could only be perceived as a disaster for the earth's climate. Environmentalists, adopting a strategy typical of the Catholic Church, have been warning us about the horrors of greenhouse gas hell ever since -- painting it as a punishment for the sin of meddling with creation.
Spiegel advanced a more reasoned approach:
Keeping a cool head is a good idea because, for one thing, we can no longer completely prevent climate change. No matter how much governments try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it will only be possible to limit the rise in global temperatures to about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. But even this moderate warming would likely have far fewer apocalyptic consequences than many a prophet of doom would have us believe.
For one thing, the more paleontologists and geologists study the history of the earth's climate, the more clearly do they recognize just how much temperatures have fluctuated in both directions in the past. Even major fluctuations appear to be completely natural phenomena.
Additionally, some environmentalists doubt that the large-scale extinction of animals and plants some have predicted will in fact come about. "A warmer climate helps promote species diversity," says Munich zoologist Josef Reichholf.
Hmmm. A warmer climate helps promote species diversity. Think you’ll be reading that in the New York Times any time soon? Or how about this:
Improved regionalized models also show that climate change can bring not only drawbacks, but also significant benefits, especially in northern regions of the world where it has been too cold and uncomfortable for human activity to flourish in the past. However it is still a taboo to express this idea in public.
For example, countries like Canada and Russia can look forward to better harvests and a blossoming tourism industry, and the only distress the Scandinavians will face is the guilty conscience that could come with benefiting from global warming.
Spiegel also debunked some commonly held myths:
Meanwhile, the Kiel Institute for World Economics warns that higher temperatures could mean thousands of heat-related deaths every year. But the extrapolations that lead to this dire prediction are based on the mortality rate in the unusually hot summer of 2003, for which Germans were wholly unprepared. But if hot summer days do become the norm, people will simply adjust by taking siestas and installing air-conditioning.
The medical benefits of higher average temperatures have also been ignored. According to Richard Tol, an environmental economist, "warming temperatures will mean that in 2050 there will be about 40,000 fewer deaths in Germany attributable to cold-related illnesses like the flu."
And debunked another myth the alarmists love to disseminate:
According to another persistent greenhouse legend, massive flooding will strike major coastal cities, raising horrific scenarios of New York, London and Shanghai sinking into the tide. However this horror story is a relic of the late 1980s, when climate simulations were far less precise than they are today. At the time, some experts believed that the Antarctic ice shield could melt, which would in fact lead to a dramatic 60-meter (197-foot) rise in sea levels. The nuclear industry quickly seized upon and publicized the scenario, which it recognized as an argument in favor of its emissions-free power plants.
But it quickly became apparent that the horrific tale of a melting South Pole was nothing but fiction. The average temperature in the Antarctic is -30 degrees Celsius. Humanity cannot possibly burn enough oil and coal to melt this giant block of ice. On the contrary, current climate models suggest that the Antarctic will even increase in mass: Global warming will cause more water to evaporate, and part of that moisture will fall as snow over Antarctica, causing the ice shield to grow. As a result, the total rise in sea levels would in fact be reduced by about 5 cm (2 inches).
It's a different story in the warmer regions surrounding the North Pole. According to an American study published last week, the Arctic could be melting even faster than previously assumed. But because the Arctic sea ice already floats in the water, its melting will have virtually no effect on sea levels.
That can’t be true. Al Gore says we’re all about to drown.
To address such nonsense, Der Spiegel published an interview Tuesday with German biologist Josef Reichholf who stated:
The climate is increasingly being turned into a scapegoat, to deflect attention from other environmental crimes. A typical example is the misleading debate over catastrophic flooding, which is in fact caused by too much development along rivers and not by more extreme weather events, which we can't change anyway.
Reichholf also debunked the global warming extinction of species hysteria:
It's nothing but fear-mongering, for which there is no concrete evidence. On the contrary, there is much to be said for the argument that warming temperatures promote biodiversity. There is a clear relationship between biodiversity and temperature. The number of species increases exponentially from the regions near the poles across the moderate latitudes and to the equator. To put it succinctly, the warmer a region is, the more diverse are its species.
And this can also be clearly inferred from the insights of evolutionary biology. Biodiversity reached its peak at the end of the tertiary age, a few million years ago, when it was much warmer than it is today. The development went in a completely different direction when the ice ages came and temperatures dropped, causing a massive extinction of species, especially in the north. This also explains why Europe has such a high capacity to absorb species from warmer regions. It just so happens that we have many unoccupied ecological niches in our less biodiverse part of the world.
Maybe this is why Reichholf stated: “Personally, I'm even looking forward to a milder climate. But it will also not pose any major problems for mankind as a whole.”
How refreshing to read the other side of the argument for a change, wouldn’t you agree?