How May a Global Temperature Rise Affect You?

Reports of rising global temperatures are frequently in the news. The Earth is warmer than it was a century ago, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a global average temperature increase of 2-4℃ by the end of the century (IPCC Assessment Report 5 Summary, pg.11). While the “global average temperature” is a good metric for the big picture of Earth’s climate, it says nothing about how the average American may be affected.

Sea level rise, water shortages, heat related deaths and violent storms have all been promised as a result of emissions, but such events have occurred throughout history. The impacts depend on socio-economic as well as climatic factors, and personal memories do not go back far enough (hundreds to thousands of years) to establish reliable baselines for assessing which, if any, extreme weather events are outside the norm for the areas in which we happen to live.

Moreover, there is not one estimate of global average temperature, nor are such estimates easy to produce. If scientists were to simply average the thermometer data from around the globe, the outcome would be garbled and useless. The averaged data must be “normalized” or “corrected” for all manner of differences in instrumentation, location, time of day, and other factors, a process that can yield dramatically different results.

Since late 1978, scientists have used temperatures derived from satellites because satellites gather atmospheric data from almost the entire Earth, including the air above the oceans. The IPCC postulates that current global temperatures are about 1℃ higher than in preindustrial times, based on the thermometer record.

Assuming there is 1℃ of warming, does it mean your hometown will be 1℃ warmer every day of the year? Does it mean that you will have more hot days in a year or fewer cold days? Does it mean that heat waves will be more intense or winter storms milder? Will you even notice the change?

The answer to all these questions is likely to be no. Averaging the whole temperature of the Earth says almost nothing about the local effects on the many different climates in the U.S. and there is no apparent trend in any municipality that points to a dramatically changing climate.

California just broke its drought with record precipitation after claims the drought would be intensified by warming. Flood fatalities are not occurring at a noticeably higher rates. Florida is on a hurricane hiatus. The birds still fly south for winter. Our warmer world also keeps getting greener—a fact environmentalists should applaud.

Evidence of catastrophic warming has yet to be found, yet politicians continue to call for drastic measures to combat warming. Their preferred “solution” is increasing compulsory reliance on expensive and unreliable energy from wind and solar sources.

Ironically, the most damaging effect of global warming may be that Americans will suffer burdensome regulations that will drive up the price of energy, thus driving up the price of food,  medicine, and other essential goods.

High energy prices and energy unreliability are the main reason climate policy is controversial. The Paris Climate Agreement’s mid-century emission-reduction target, if seriously pursued, endangers poverty eradication in the developing world. Even in our comparatively prosperous country, expensive energy can also hold back economic growth and job creation.