Global warming is good

In my lifetime I've seen public opinion on climate go from "is it happening?", through "did we do it?" to "how can we stop it?". This essay argues that there should have been more effort expended on another question: "is it valuable?".

There have been a number of attempts by economists to analyse the relative costs and benefits of global warming. Most of them have concluded that the costs of warming outweigh the benefits. I think this conclusion is mistaken. In defense of my position I have two points to make. One is that anthropogenic global warming has prevented - or is very likely to prevent - the onset of reglaciation - which would be an enormously negative event. This fact makes global warming into a massive positive force. The other issue concerns short term and long term costs and benefits. Change often involves costs. However, change is often necessary to get where you want to go. Conservatives often emphasize the costs of change - but their path is not always the best one. In the case of global warming, coastline movement will certainly be inconvenient. However, moving to a warmer planet should help to end the ice age, prevent glacial climate flip-flopping and create a more stable and better climate.

We have a fairly clear picture of what a warmer planet would be like: most of the planet's history was 5-10 degrees celcius warmer than it is now. The reason it is so cold at the moment is that we are locked into a horrifying ice age. A large continent prevents water circulation around the south pole, and a ring of continents hinder water circulation around the south pole leading to large ice and snow build-ups in both regions. The adverse continental positions must be actively combatted in order to avoid reglaciation, and pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere is the easiest way. A warmer planet is not the nightmare it is often portrayed as being. It is a planet more like a greenhouse or a hot house. Life - including human beings - thrive in these sorts of environments. In a warmer world, there would be more plant life, more precipitation, fewer droughts and fewer deserts.

Warming detractors emphasize the costs of change and the costs associated with a warmer planet. However, the benefits of having a warmer planet surely outweigh the costs, by any sensible analysis: longer growing seasons, more rain, more habitable areas, fewer deserts, etc - while the costs of changing the climate are transient. Even if you totally ignore the enormous issue of protection against reglaciation, global warming still looks like a very positive thing.

This analysis casts doubt on the value of the modern crusade to reduce, halt or reverse global warming. However it leaves open a variety of possibilities relating to the best policy. Whether we should hasten warming or slow it down - to reduce the costs of warming is not obvious. Reglaciation would be really bad, but the chances of it happening anytime soon appear to be rather remote - limiting the benefits of additional protection against it. Rapid climate change increases the cost per unit time of adaptation, but reduces the duration of the climate change - so that we get to a stable, warmer climate faster. How best to deal with this is a difficult decision, but practically no-one is looking into this, due to their framing of the whole issue.

I do have some policy preferences. I think that attempts to deny the developing world the benefits of fossil fuels are pretty negative. Such policies are likely to hinder global development and hurt humanities prospects. I also favour actively planting trees at high lattitudes: tundra reclamation and, in arid areas: desert reclamation. These interventions are all likely to accelerate global warming.

Some other brief comments about global warming: I regard global warming prevention as a bad cause. It wastes enormous quantities of resources while producing minimal tangible benefits. If the resources which are spent on it were used to do something of real value, the world could be a much better place. As a result, global warming prevention is at the top of my list of bad causes. While virtue signalling is responsible for much good in the world, global warming prevention illustrates one of the ways in which it can go wrong. Showing that you care for the planet ought to be good thing - leading to more care for the planet. Instead we have the catastrophic AGW memeplex. Sad times.

Another part of the reason why global warming is not a very significant problem is the likely imminent arrival of machine intelligence. Smart machines will extend the digital revolution to brains, fairly rapidly making the human brain functionally obsolete. This looks as though it will precipitate a genetic takeover. I tend to be more focussed on the issues surrounding those events. By contrast, global warming just doesn't look very important.


Tim Tyler | Contact