What's wrong with mild winters, anyway?<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
When talk turns to global warming, there are only three socially acceptable opinions that may be expressed. It's going to be bad, terrible or catastrophic. As our leading alarmist, former Vice President Al Gore, makes clear in his book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth, "the negative impact of climate change vastly outweighs any local benefits."
Researchers have warned us that a temperature rise of a few degrees will bring about plagues of jellyfish on our shores, more poison ivy in our gardens, maple syrup shortages, drowning polar bears, invasions by hordes of smaller and smaller ants, and a proliferation of new types of crime (at least in Australia). Dry areas will become deserts, wet places malarial swamps. Sea levels will rise faster and, worst of all, the effects will fall hardest on women, minorities, children and the poorest people in the poorest countries.
Yes, rising sea levels, if they happen, would be bad for a lot of people. But a warming trend would be good for other people. At the risk of committing heresy, I'd like to suggest that the debate about climate change include, for once, a fair assessment of the benefits alongside the declamations of harm.
For example, cold winter storms kill a lot of people. More people die from blizzards and cold spells than from heat waves. Increased death rates usually persist for weeks after the unusually cold temperatures have passed, which suggests that the cold is killing people who would otherwise live into another season at least. Mortality rates during heat waves are just the reverse. The increase ends and often the rate drops below normal as soon as temperatures cool, which suggests that the higher temperatures are killing people who are likely to die soon anyway. It is true that mortality rates from both cold and hot weather have been declining in rich countries for a long time. That's because wealthier societies can adapt and protect themselves better from temperature extremes. But it also appears that deaths from hot weather have been declining more rapidly than those from cold.
So modest climatic improvement would be to have fewer and less severe big winter storms. Amazingly, that's exactly what we should get if global warming theory turns out to be true. The models say that much of the warming will occur in the upper latitudes and in the winter. At the risk of further ridicule in kooky blogs in England, where global warming alarmism is now a religion, that sounds pretty good to me. Fewer people will die from the cold.
And once you think about it, there are likely to be other beneficial consequences as well. Life in many places would become more pleasant. Instead of 20 below zero in January in Saskatoon, it might be only 10 below. And I don't think too many people would complain if winters in Minneapolis became more like winters in Kansas City.
In fact, there is no question that most people prefer less severe winters. North Dakota and Maine haven't been gaining much in population. Every census since 1960 shows rapid population growth in Florida, California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. For the elderly and infirm, warmer weather is definitely healthier as well as more pleasant.
This promising scenario of milder winters in northern regions, which would become reality in the unlikely event that global warming turns out to be as considerable as predicted, comes with a catch, however. Air-conditioning is now considered a necessity, not only in Houston and Washington, D.C., but even in some northern climes where no matter how hot it gets during the day, it still cools down at night. Air-conditioning takes a lot of energy. But to stop global warming, we're supposed to use much less energy. Given our obvious preference for living in warmer climates as long as we have air-conditioning, I doubt that we're going to go on the energy diet that the global warming doomsters urge us to undertake.