When it’s really cold, especially out of season, people joke that they wish we’d get some of that global warming they keep hearing about. And there’s many a true word spoken in jest.
Of course if you talk that way, even if you’re not Donald Trump, you get irritated lectures that global warming isn’t about the good warmth that leads people to, say, vacation in the Caribbean. It’s the terrible kind that causes droughts, floods, hurricanes, the extinction of every species that’s cute or useful and the proliferation of rats, supersized poison ivy and orange jellyfish the size of refrigerators.
Speaking of Trump, he just got the smackdown from the Inuit Circumpolar Council for refusing to allow the words “climate change” in an Arctic Council declaration. Which might sound like a dull insult. But their press release quoted ICC Alaska president James Stotts that “Inuit see the reality of climate change every day. And the reality is our communities are struggling for survival.”
Nowadays such rhetoric is unremarkable. But it’s weird because if at any time since the 17th century you had asked almost anyone what was remarkable about Inuit culture they’d have said it’s that they somehow managed to survive in such a hostile landscape. And if you’d then asked what made it hostile they’d have replied slowly, using short words, that it’s really really cold.
It’s like a documentary on Emperor Penguins. What we admire is that they somehow persevere. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone that life would not be easier for penguins or people if it got warmer.
Nor should it have. If you travel the globe, from the Amazon and Serengeti to Resolute Bay or the top of Mount Everest, you’ll notice fairly quickly that there’s more life in warmer spots. More total, more variety. (In hot places where it’s hard to cling to existence, such as the Sahara, the issue is lack of moisture.)
It’s also revealing to travel in time rather than space, back to the Eocene or even the Mesozoic and ask yourself how dinosaurs adapted to global warming. Apparently it wasn’t hard, unlike the series of very nasty ice ages hundreds of millions of years ago during which nearly everything died.
Obviously you have to take the flourishing of life with a grain of salt. Or risk it taking you with one. Even the giant camels on Ellesmere Island 3.5 million years ago worry me, let alone the Titanoboa as long as a bus during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. And in addition to giant bugs the age of the dinosaurs saw such triumphs of meat-shearing and bone-crunching disaster as the T Rex and Spinosaurus. But they were going about chomping this and shredding that because warm conditions created walking feasts like the Brontosaurus or Iguanodon.
Seriously. Go to a museum. Visit the dinosaur exhibit. And unless some dry and dusty pedant has put up dry and dusty bones, you’ll find a lush landscape with a plethora of weird, wonderful and often huge beasts. Warmth is good for life.
The reason you can’t talk this way nowadays without risking a browbeating from the Greta Thunberg fan club is not that someone went out and discovered that in fact warmth is bad. Nobody looked at conditions in 1700 and 1950 and said gosh, the end of the Little Ice Age was bad for people. That we’re spectacularly better off today has a lot to do with the industrial revolution, of course. But whatever role warming played was positive and there is simply no evidence that, within reason, warming is bad, for life generally or us particularly. (For a discussion of evidence on this topic and many others visit the Climate Discussion Nexus.)
I don’t deny that a sudden change in temperature would be hard to adapt to, for us, our crops and that moose over there. Up or down. But I certainly deny the dogma that warming makes everything worse and that if the planet gradually warms by another 1.5 degrees Centigrade we’re all in the soup.
By contrast back in the 1970s, though alarmists like to deny it now, there was legitimate concern about cooling because it’s pretty obvious that if it gets colder life gets harder. Crops fail. Your furnace works harder. Worst case scenario the glaciers advance and crush your house.
If it were like the Arctic in the breadbaskets of North America, Europe and Asia most of us would die. A few hardy folks would hang on even in those terrible conditions, making kayaks of sealskin, living off fish and huddling in igloos. But they’d wait eagerly for what passed for spring and fear the coming of winter.
I’m prepared to listen to arguments that a continuation of the warming trend since the 1860s would have some drawbacks. And that if it accelerated there could be major problems. But I’m not prepared to believe that the Holocene Climate Optimum when agriculture and writing developed was a bleak disaster, or that every possible consequence of warming is bad including making it harder for humans to survive in the Arctic.
Why do you think people invented fire?