Is there anything GOOD about global warming?

In the last science report, we looked at how heat trapped in by extra man-made greenhouse gases translates to more energy and how that energy gets used to make storms, droughts, wildfires and heat waves bigger.

But could any of this extra energy be a positive thing?  Like a superhero who decides to use his powers for good, not evil?!

I looked through the latest IPCC report to find what it said about possible positive outcomes of climate change…

… there weren't a lot to be found, sadly, and those I did find were almost always couched with a caveat of a negative consequence that balanced out the positive.  Here are a few, though:

  1. A longer growing season in mid-high latitudes means an increase in crop productivity for some areas, including North America.  However, this is only the case up to about 1-3ºC warming (2-5ºF).  Above that, crop productivity is supposed to go back down.  Boo…
  2. Commercial timber production is also expected to increase a little in the near-term, because of more CO2 for those trees to use, but it's expected to decrease in the long-term because it just gets too hot.
  3. "Climate change is projected to bring some benefits, such as fewer deaths from cold exposure.  Overall it is expected that these benefits will be outweighed by the negative health effects of rising temperatures world-wide, especially in developing countries." (IPCC 2007)

A couple other benefits are reduced heating costs in cold parts of the world and the opening up of the fabled Northwest Passage over Canada.  In both these cases, though, it's not hard to come up with the down-sides to these situations:

For every home that doesn't spend as much money on heating, there will be several more that will be spending more money (and energy) on cooling.  And although opening up the Northwest Passage might be a great thing in terms of shipping, it brings with it a whole lot of other problems as well, as the almost uninhabited northern border of Canada gets developed.

(This is where Baffin Island is, where I did my research for my Master's, so I can tell you that there really isn't a lot up there right now.  It's desolate, isolated, untouched and incredibly beautiful!)  (Read here for an interesting, but dated – 2005 – NY Times article on the opening of the Northwest Passage.)

So, sadly, any of the benefits of global warming look like they’re going to be far outweighed by the negative impacts – especially in the long term.  We ourselves might not have to face them, but our children and our grandchildren will.

Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson is ACE’s Director of Education. She came to ACE in its inception in 2008. Rebecca develops ACE's science content, manages the online climate education resource Our Climate Our Future, oversees the ACE Teacher Network, and works with schools in the Reno-Tahoe area. Prior to ACE, she did paleoclimate research in the Arctic and Antarctica.