Why climate change is good for the world

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Climate change has done more good than harm so far, Matt Ridley notes, and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century:

There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.

To be precise, Prof Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2?C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3?C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8?C of warming has happened in the last 150 years. The latest estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that such temperatures may not be reached till the end of the century — if at all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports define the consensis, is sticking to older assumptions, however, which would mean net benefits till about 2080. Either way, it’s a long way off.

Now Prof Tol has a new paper, published as a chapter in a new book, called How Much have Global Problems Cost the World?, which is edited by Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, and was reviewed by a group of leading economists. In this paper he casts his gaze backwards to the last century. He concludes that climate change did indeed raise human and planetary welfare during the 20th century.

You can choose not to believe the studies Prof Tol has collated. Or you can say the net benefit is small (which it is), you can argue that the benefits have accrued more to rich countries than poor countries (which is true) or you can emphasise that after 2080 climate change would probably do net harm to the world (which may also be true). You can even say you do not trust the models involved (though they have proved more reliable than the temperature models). But what you cannot do is deny that this is the current consensus. If you wish to accept the consensus on temperature models, then you should accept the consensus on economic benefit.


  1. Felix says:

    Grab a globe. Look at whether people or all creatures, in general, are limited in where they live by heat or by cold.

    Now, if the, apparently, far more important question is asked, “Do I, at the top of the heap, want any change in my world I don’t control myself?”, then we can understand the politics of global warming.

  2. Toddy Cat says:

    Do I, at the top of the heap, want any change in my world I don’t control myself?”,

    Well, you’re gonna get it, whether you want it or not. The climate is going to change in some way whether we like it or not, and the old science fiction dream of climate and weather control looks to be as far away as ever.

  3. “…and the old science fiction dream of climate and weather control looks to be as far away as ever.”

    And it’ll stay that way too. Back when people were confidently predicting mathematically precise weather prediction (much less control) it was assumed that increases in computing power would allow us to solve the necessary sets of fluid dynamics differential equations. Of course, then Lorenz came along and, through the development of Chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics, showed that that was impossible even in theory.

    Admittedly, certain large-scale, brute force applications of weather control are possible and even widely used. Cloud seeding is the canonical example. I have to say, I’m still intrigued by the idea of using large fusion bombs to try and disperse hurricanes and maybe smaller ones for tornado-spawning supercells.

  4. Isegoria says:

    We had some success climate-controlling downtown — by building a new one, enclosing it, and then calling it a mall — but that’s gone out of fashion.

Leave a Reply