What if global warming is actually good for us?

I’ve mentioned the writings of Matt Ridley before, here and here. As Lord Ridley he spoke out in the House of Lords against the Conservative Government’s latest energy-taxing bill the other day. He is a scientist and an engaging writer who wrote a piece the other day in The Spectator. It is typical Ridley, and I am boiling it down for this post. But the original is very good, and you can read it here.

I have made the point before, probably several times, that on the evidence the warming that we have had over the last century has been A Good Thing, as Sellar and Yeatman used to write. Food production has risen, more people are alive, and live longer, and so on. On the face of it, and up to a point, a warmer world ought to be better for us than a colder world.

Well Ridley has assembled everything he can to buttress that central point, and he starts off in his characteristic breezy way, like this:

Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this. Whenever I make the point in public, I am told by those who are paid to insult anybody who departs from climate alarm that I have got it embarrassingly wrong, don’t know what I am talking about, must be referring to Britain only, rather than the world as a whole, and so forth.

There are lots of net benefits of ‘climate change’, he says, and they are likely to stay with us until 2080 at the earliest. Richard Tol of the University of Sussex has studied the economic and social benefits of 14 different projected climate trends, and says that in net terms warming is beneficial up to 2.2 degrees Celsius — which is about 3 degrees C since the start of the Industrial Revolution. You can find Tol’s contribution here. Ridley summarises it:

The chief benefits of global warming include: fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity. It is a little-known fact that winter deaths exceed summer deaths — not just in countries like Britain but also those with very warm summers, including Greece. Both Britain and Greece see mortality rates rise by 18 per cent each winter. Especially cold winters cause a rise in heart failures far greater than the rise in deaths during heatwaves.

Cold, not the heat, is the biggest killer. For the last decade, Brits have been dying from the cold at the average rate of 29,000 excess deaths each winter. Compare this to the heatwave ten years ago, which claimed 15,000 lives in France and just 2,000 in Britain. In the ten years since, there has been no summer death spike at all. Excess winter deaths hit the poor harder than the rich for the obvious reason: they cannot afford heating. And it is not just those at risk who benefit from moderate warming. Global warming has so far cut heating bills more than it has raised cooling bills. If it resumes after its current 17-year hiatus, and if the energy efficiency of our homes improves, then at some point the cost of cooling probably will exceed the cost of heating — probably from about 2035, Prof Tol estimates.

It’s not just increased temperature. Carbon dioxide is the basic plant food, and plants struggle to get enough of it, which is why commercial growers pump their glasshouses with more of the gas. Global increases in the ‘greening’ of the planet have been reported by scientific papers, one of which was actually authored by Australian scientists.

Well yes, you may argue, but what about all the weather disasters caused by climate change? Entirely mythical — so far. The latest IPCC report is admirably frank about this, reporting ‘no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency offloads on a global scale … low confidence in observed trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms’. In fact, the death rate from droughts, floods and storms has dropped by 98 per cent since the 1920s, according to a careful study by the independent scholar Indur Goklany. 

Why don’t we hear of all these benefits? They’re not newsworthy, that’s why. I’ve said that before, and Ridley says it again. And what the EU is doing seems to me just nutty — there are no other words for it. Here’s Ridley to finish.

As Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, the European Union will pay £165 billion for its current climate policies each and every year for the next 87 years. Britain’s climate policies — subsidising windmills, wood-burners, anaerobic digesters, electric vehicles and all the rest — is due to cost us £1.8 trillion over the course of this century. In exchange for that Brobdingnagian sum, we hope to lower the air temperature by about 0.005C — which will be undetectable by normal thermometers. The accepted consensus among economists is that every £100 spent fighting climate change brings £3 of benefit.

And why didn’t I hear some of this from the Climate Change Authority?

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Peter Lang says:

    This link shows the abstract and the figures in Richard Tols 2013 paper: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165188913000092

    Figure 1 indicates that warming would be net beneficial up to 2.2. C warming and the maximum benefit would be at 1 C to 1.5 C warming.

  • davids99us says:

    Don, I have an opinion up at Quadrant that you might be interested in http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2013/10/sea-change-climate-science/. The approach was inspired by one of your comments on writing – that an article should frame the discussion, show how to think about an issue – something like that. Thanks.

  • Peter Lang says:

    Tol, R.S.J. (2011) “The Economic Impact of Climate Change in the 20th and 21st Centuries
    http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/sites/default/files/climate_change.pdf

    Based on this paper I suggest:

    1. The best way to combat the negative impacts of climate change is to assist the
    poorest countries to become richer.

    2. By far the greatest negative contributor to impacts is the cost of energy
    (see Figure 3). I expect this analysis does not properly allow for the large reduction in costs that is likely as we move from fossil fuels to nuclear energy this century. For example, if the cost of electricity reduces at the rate of 10% per doubling of capacity of small modular nuclear plants, the cost of nuclear generated electricity would be half the cost of coal generated electricity by about 2040. Therefore, the second best way to combat the impacts of climate change is to remove the impediments to nuclear power and allow it to become cheaper.

    3. This paper demonstrates how poorly we understand the impacts of climate change. The explanation here shows we have almost nothing to go on. The
    economic analyses and the studies of impacts of climate change are very
    immature at this stage.

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