Fri08012014

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Maybe Global Warming isn’t so bad after all

Just how serious is global warming?  No matter who you think caused it, man, or some natural cycle, the answer is that global warming presents a threat to our ecosystems and puts millions, if not billions, of people at risk. Floods and storms will get worse, droughts in dry regions will be more severe, entire species could disappear, and cities we have come to know and love may no longer be sustainable in their current locations.

It takes a monumental engineering effort to sustain New Orleans, and the same is becoming true for New York and London. So, having said that, it probably represents some form of environmental heresy for me to suggest that global warming could offer some benefits. That’s not to say that the benefits outweigh the costs, because they probably don’t, but not everyone is going to find global warming such a bad thing.

Late last year, for the first time in history, a Danish cargo ship, specially reinforced for ice conditions, crossed the Northwest Passage. This is a world-changing event. For centuries, beginning with the earliest days of sail by the great seafaring nations, humans have tried to find a sea passage over the top of Canada. It cuts thousands of miles off the journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but the problem has been that this route has always been clogged with ice. Until recently, not even our best ice cutters could have managed it. But now, with the ice receding, there is a bright future for international commerce through this once impenetrable natural barrier. The benefits could be considerable.  At the same time, and this will make my environmentalist friends equally nervous, it opens up vast areas of this once iced-over region to oil and gas exploration.

Then, there is the matter of crops and food production. It’s a miracle that anyone farms in Siberia. It makes North Dakota look like a garden spot, but Russians are a sturdy people, and they have managed over the centuries to produce large quantities of wheat in this otherwise inhospitable land. However, it’s never lived up to expectations, even when the communists all but ordered the wheat to grow, and harvests have always fallen well below the needs of this vast country. This, however, may be changing. Thanks to rising temperature levels, Siberian wheat farmers are able to get in an entire extra crop of wheat; this has happened several years in a row. The result is a substantial increase in production.

Other countries, mostly in Northern climates, have seen other odd benefits to global temperature increases. While Britain has to deal with rising sea levels, they’re also seeing, thanks to higher average temperatures, an increase in the diversity of crops that might be grown on their island. Last year, London’s Kew gardens grew their first outside avocado. And it’s not uncommon to see the occasional palm tree. They all have to go inside or be covered during the winter, but they’re still growing, in of all places, England. I don’t know what Shakespeare would have made of that.

There is also the matter of the cold. Every year, thousands of people worldwide succumb to the effects of the cold. There is a long list of maladies, from head colds to the flu and pneumonia, which are made far worse by the icy chill of the season. Thanks to global warming, more people are likely to survive the world’s winters. Of course, global warming is still a grave threat; I am not trying to make light of it, but in at least a few isolated instances, maybe it won’t be so bad.

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