The Republican chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology thinks you’re all worrying too much about climate change. In fact, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas thinks global warming is actually a good thing.
Smith claimed in a post for the Daily Signal, a blog run by the right-wing Heritage Foundation — which has repeatedly questioned “mainstream” climate science — that global warming has benefits that are ignored by “alarmists.” Smith is taking a different tack than many of his Republican colleagues, who deny outright that the climate is changing at all.
Most research indicates that manmade climate change, caused by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (“carbon enrichment,” in Smith’s words) will cause oceans to rise, economies to collapse, and biodiversity to plummet. If there are some silver linings to a warming planet, the destruction that will be caused by climate change far outweighs the few small benefits.
Let’s take a close look at what Smith’s op-ed claims:
A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth. This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better-quality food.
The scientists whose work Smith is likely referring to here (we can’t say for sure because Smith didn’t cite any) warned against these arguments.
“Although [skeptics] could use the results to say that CO2 is good for plants, it’s really missing the whole picture,” Trevor Keenan, an ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who conducted a study that indicated that plants had ramped up photosynthesis, told PRI.
“The kind of extreme temperatures we expect to see because of this CO2 is most definitely detrimental to plants, due to increased drought mortality [and] increased fire frequencies globally,” he said.
The world’s vegetated areas are becoming 25 to 50 percent greener, according to satellite images. Some 70 percent of this greening is due to a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Howie Epstein, a professor who studies arctic greening through satellite images, told VICE News by email that Smith’s claim about global greening “is at best misleading, and at worst completely false.”
It’s true that parts of the Arctic have greened, and that the greening may be due to global warming, but we don’t know to what extent global warming is responsible — its greening isn’t nearly as beneficial as Smith suggests.
“In the Arctic, we found that tundra vegetation had greened by a maximum of [about] 25 percent since the 1960s, and this trend actually began reversing itself sometime between 2000 and 2010 in different areas of the tundra,” Epstein said. “In fact, there is now a great deal of interest in understanding tundra ‘browning.’”
Greater vegetation assists in controlling water runoff, provides more habitats for many animal species, and even aids in climate stabilization, as more vegetation absorbs more carbon dioxide.
“Greater vegetation can reduce water runoff, and potentially increase habitat,” says Epstein. But studies indicate that more carbon in the atmosphere actually mean plants absorb less water from the ground.
And most vegetation is close to being saturated with CO2 — they won’t keep absorbing carbon out of the atmosphere at the rate they are now.
When plant diversity increases, these vegetated areas can better eliminate carbon from the atmosphere.
The implication here is that getting carbon out of the atmosphere is a desirable outcome of more carbon in the atmosphere, which Smith says is a good thing. But regardless, plant diversity isn’t proven to increase carbon absorption.
“There has been a lot of research on diversity effects on ecosystem functioning, and the results are rather mixed,” Epstein says. “Often the right monoculture can be more productive than a diverse plant community.”
Also, as the Earth warms, we are seeing beneficial changes to the earth’s geography. For instance, Arctic sea ice is decreasing. This development will create new commercial shipping lanes that provide faster, more convenient, and less costly routes between ports in Asia, Europe, and eastern North America.
The melting of arctic sea ice will likely create more icebergs, which may interfere with shipping lanes. This is already happening. In April off the coast of Newfoundland, cargo ships had to find new routes because their old ones were blocked off by icebergs.
And ice melting in polar regions isn’t something we should celebrate, anyway.
As sea ice drifts off into the ocean, the ice shelves that they’re a part of lose their structure and begin to collapse, and glacial ice flows into the ocean. So while sea ice, which is floating on water already, won’t contribute to rising sea levels, the flow Antarctic glacial ice into the oceans will.
And rising tides — which will put cities underwater, destroy property, and displace millions people — are not good for the economy.
Research has shown that regions that have enjoyed a major reduction in poverty achieved these gains by expanding the use of fossil fuels for energy sources.
Research suggesting coal is good for developing economies has come out of places like the Institute for Energy Research, a D.C.-based nonprofit think tank tank that advocates for free-market solutions to global energy and environment problems. But the World Bank refutes that research, and suggests instead that renewables will drive growth in the twenty first century.
And study after study indicates that global warming will be a major driver of global inequality. Suggesting that in the short-term developing economies might benefit from fossil fuels ignores the long-term damage burning those fuels will have on those developing economies down the line.
The Obama administration planned to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on policies that would have a negligible impact on the environment.
Obama did spend money to combat climate change. But the centerpiece of Obama’s legacy on climate change, the Clean Power Plan, left major decisions to the states, and, depending on how they would have complied if the plan were implemented, the costs would have varied.
But this is misleading, anyway: Having a negligible impact on the environment is exactly what policies that address climate change are designed to do. Not addressing climate change will have a non-negligible, and detrimental, impact on the environment.
The Clean Power Plan would have reduced global temperatures by only three one-hundredths of 1 degree Celsius.
Estimates suggest that the Clean Power Plan would have reduced emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Because carbon in the atmosphere takes years to fully affect the environment, even if we stopped all carbon emissions now, global temperatures would continue to rise. A reduction in global temperatures isn’t likely to happen at all at this point, no matter what steps are taken to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
Bad deals like the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. billions of dollars, a loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and have no discernible impact on global temperatures.
The Paris Agreement would have cost the U.S. billions of dollars. In January, President Obama paid $500 million into the UN Green Climate fund, and the U.S. would have continued to contribute to the fund had it stayed in the Paris deal.
But it wouldn’t have hurt job growth; CEOs of 30 of the biggest companies in the U.S. urged President Trump not to withdraw from Paris. The study Trump used to justify pulling out of the agreement was misleading. Leaving the deal is more likely to hurt job growth.