Are there positive benefits from global warming?

Author: 
January 23, 2014

Yes, there will probably be some short-term and long-term positive benefits from global warming. For example, the flip side of increased mortality from heat waves may be decreased mortality from cold waves.

In the short term, farmers in some regions may benefit from the earlier onset of spring and from a longer warm season that is suitable for growing crops. Also, studies show that, up to a certain point, crops and other plants grow better in the presence of higher carbon dioxide levels and seem to be more drought-tolerant. But this benefit is a two-edged sword: weeds, many invasive plant species, and insect pests will also thrive in a warmer world. Water availability will be impacted in drier agricultural areas that need irrigation. At some point, the positive benefits to crops of increased carbon dioxide may be overwhelmed by the negative impacts of heat stress and drought.

MSV Nordica

Photographed here in 2011, Finnish icebreaker, MSV Nordica set a new record for the earliest transit through the Northwest Passage, in July 2017. Photo CC license by JV Virta.

In the long term, shipping commerce will benefit from the opening of the Northwest Passage for longer periods of the year due to the loss of Arctic sea ice. However, in the long run, if a "business as usual" approach to emitting heat-trapping gases is maintained at the present rate, or faster, then the negative costs and impacts of global warming are very likely to far outweigh the positive benefits over the course of this century, with increased potential for catastrophic impacts from more extreme events. In part, this is because any substantial change, whether warmer or colder, would challenge the societal infrastructure that has developed under the current climate.

References

IPCC (2012):Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, D.J. Dokken, K.L. Ebi, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S.K. Allen, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, 582 pp.

USGCRP (2009): Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. A special report of the United States Global Change Research Program [T.R. Karl, J.M. Melillo, and T.C. Peterson (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA, 188 pp.