The Bright Side of Global Warming

27 July 2006 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

I recall a comment from Gordon Tullock a few years ago at a panel on global warming: If we think that climate is affected by human activity, why aren’t we doing more research on the optimal temperature of the earth? In other words, why is it universally assumed that hotter is worse? Rising temperatures and water levels would be tough for those near the equator and on the coasts, but a few degrees warmer would be a blessing for those near the poles. (Not sure about the net effect on people near the poles and on the coast; sorry Lasse!)

Last Tuesday’s WSJ ran this front-page feature: “For Icy Greenland, Global Warming Has a Bright Side.” Excerpt:

[T]o many of the people who live here in Greenland, the warming trend is a boon, not a threat. . . . Even small increases in temperature can make a big difference in the quality of life for many Greenlanders who scrabble out a living at the whims of the weather. Freezing temperatures are the biggest factor limiting plant growth in Greenland. If the average temperature warms just a degree or two, the number of freezing nights is reduced. Higher temperatures produce stronger, healthier plants and provide farmers larger crop yields.

Of course, identifying beneficiaries does not tell us about net gains. Tyler Cowen thinks the losers will far outnumber the winners. I tend agree with George Reisman, however: “Even if global warming turned out to be a fact, the free citizens of an industrial civilization would have no great difficulty in coping with it — that is, of course, if their ability to use energy and to produce is not crippled by the environmental movement and by government controls otherwise inspired.” Market economies are remarkably flexible and resilient. Why are the spillover effects of rising temperatures assumed to be more disruptive than the pecuniary externalities resulting from the shift from agriculture to industry, the introduction of the automobile, the telecom and computer revolutions, etc.?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Classical Liberalism.

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