The Case For Doing Nothing About Global Warming

Time after time, the public has been harangued by climate change “experts” predicting all form of devastation due to anthropogenic global warming. The Greenland and Antarctic glaciers will melt, as will the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures will rise by 2-6°C, perhaps more in higher latitudes. Weather patterns will shift, there will be droughts and torrential monsoon rains, cyclones will increase in intensity—where will it all end? Here's a thought, we might find the world a nicer place after a bit of global warming. In fact, given the general cooling trend seen over the Holocene (the period since the last glacial period ended around 14,000 years ago) and the Cenozoic (the time since the dinosaurs died, around 65 million years ago) human CO2 may be, in some small way, the only thing delaying another devastating ice age.

As most people know, the proximate cause of the stink over climate change is the series of reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to Naomi Oreskes, a researcher at the Department of History and Science Studies Program, UCSD, and author of a deeply flawed paper on climate change publications, the case made by the climate change community is strong. In an essay that appeared in the December 3, 2004, issue of Science, Oreskes states:

The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC's purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature. In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: “Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

What is interesting about the Oreskes essay, entitled “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” is that it was among the most downloaded articles from the Science website during December of 2010. Evidently. the climate apocalypse faithful need to reinforce the strength of their convictions every now and then. Other organizations, including the American National Academy of Sciences, have piled on and, by now, everyone has heard about the dreaded global warming (test your knowledge about global warming by taking the quiz). What most people don't know is the truth about the supposed effects of AGW. According to the Washington Post:

The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes.

Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds.

Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.

That was from November 2, 1922, as reported by the Associated Press. That was the last time we had a global warming scare. Since then we have had a global cooling scare, which has also faded from the news papers, and now we are back to global warming again. Not that the hyperbole has changed much in 88 years.

Nowadays, every notable natural occurrence, every fluctuation of the thermometer, every flood or dry-spell is attributed to global warming. A dry, mild winter—it's climate change. A snowy, frigid winter—it's climate change. Record hot or cold, dry or wet, all are confidently blamed on climate change. And of course, climate change is caused by human CO2 emissions. The last IPCC report, AR4, contained a list of effects and probabilities.

Table 1. Global warming effects and likelihoods. Source AR4.

Some translation of the likelihoods ratings is necessary. As we said in The Resilient earth, the IPCC takes uncertainty very seriously—to the point where they have published a number of guidelines on exactly what the terms used in their reports mean. These include: Uncertainties in Guidance Papers on the Cross Cutting Issues of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, published in 2000; IPCC Workshop on Describing Scientific Uncertainties in Climate Change to Support Analysis of Risk and of Options: Workshop report, published in 2003; and IPCC Uncertainty Guidance Note, published in 2005. Here is an excerpt from TRE explaining the IPCC rating system:

In the introductory letter to the guidance note, use of the terms “confidence” and “likelihood” as alternative ways of expressing uncertainty are given “particular attention.”

Terminology Degree of confidence in being correct
Very High confidence At least 9 out of 10 chance of being correct
High confidence About 8 out of 10 chance
Medium confidence About 5 out of 10 chance
Low confidence About 2 out of 10 chance
Very low confidence Less than 1 out of 10 chance
Table 2: Quantitatively calibrated levels of confidence

Multiple scales are provided to allow IPCC authors to confidently identify their level of uncertainty. Table 2 defines the meanings of phrases used when expressing levels of confidence, while Table 3 defines phrases used when talking about likelihood. It is not uncommon for scientists to use statistics and probabilities when they are unsure of their conclusions. This might seem confusing, but at least it is well defined confusion.

Terminology Degree of confidence in being correct
Virtually certain >99% probability of occurrence
Very likely >90% probability
Likely >66% probability
About as likely as not 33% to 66% probability
Unlikely <33% probability
Very unlikely <10% probability
Exceptionally unlikely <1% probability
Table 3: IPCC Likelihood Scale.

When the terms “high confidence” or “about as likely as not” appear in an IPCC report they have specific meanings. “High confidence” means that there is an eight in ten, or 80%, chance of being correct. “About as likely as not” means there is between a one in three and two in three (33%-66%) chance of being correct. All the conclusions presented in the IPCC reports, especially those in the Summary for Policymakers, must be viewed through this haze of statistical uncertainty. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

In essence, the IPCC is saying the only sure bet is that there will be more warm days and fewer cold days and nights. Everything else in Table 1 is a two in three chance or better. Even so, the predicted effects seem a bit vague. The report goes on to break out various effects for different categories based on a sliding scale according to the amount of temperature increase. The figure from the original report is reproduced in Table 4, below. A close inspection reveals a mixed bag of results.

Table 4. Figure SPM-1 from the AR4 WGII Summary.

So let's break this down a bit. Starting with water we find that the tropics and the higher latitudes will become wetter, certainly not devastating news. The tropics are already wet and more temperate zone precipitation should improve crop yields. Middle latitudes will be dryer, particularly in areas that are already dry. More people will suffer from “water stress” but then, if you know anything about the world's looming fresh water shortage, that comes as no surprise. That shortage, however, is being caused mostly by population growth and poor farming practices, not global warming.


The impact on ecosystems seems to concentrate on corals until temperatures get to the high end of the scale (not a forgone conclusion). Corals are the major builders of reefs in the modern ocean, and as such provide habitat for a wide range of sea creatures. But corals have not always dominated reef building activity. At times during Earth's history other creatures have done the job: brachiopods, bivalves, sponges, tube worms, even algae and the primitive but still living stromatolites. Nature always has a backup plan and one species' extinction is another's opportunity for some adaptive radiation.

In fact, corals first became significant reef builders during the Silurian period, sometime between 430 and 450 million years ago. They effectively vanished during the Permo-Triasic Extinction event 251 mya. The reefs as we know them today did not appear until 225 million years ago, in the middle Triassic period.

Stomatolites are ready to step in if coral falters.

Also note that there are many different types of corals that inhabit many different ocean zones. It has been discovered that some corals can survive at higher ocean temperatures than some would have us believe. This only makes sense, since ocean temperatures and ocean levels have varied widely in the past.

“The most exciting thing was discovering live, healthy corals on reefs already as hot as the ocean is likely to get 100 years from now,” said Stephen Palumbi, a professor of biology and a senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. “Corals are certainly threatened by environmental change, but this research has really sparked the notion that corals may be tougher than we thought.”

It has also been reported that people are having great success rebuilding bleached out reefs. This indicates that the situation isn't as hopeless as many alarmists have proclaimed. Also running counter to the belief that corals can only grow in relatively shallow water within a limited band of temperatures, a recent marine expedition reported: “A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) has captured stunning images of massive corals, as well as unusual crustaceans and fish living at depths never before surveyed, thousands of meters below the surface.”

This leads to two observations: 1) corals could not have been so successful for so long it they were so sensitive to environmental conditions, and 2) there is a term for organisms that require very strict limits on environmental conditions to prosper—that term is extinct.

In fact, the impact of global warming on biodiversity—the variety of living things on the planet—has been blown way out of proportion. It was found that tropical forests did well under previous episodes of even extreme global warming. Indeed the whole biodiversity question seems to be overblown. Remember, for most of the planet's history temperatures have been significantly warmer than our own chilly times, with new “climate optimums” being discovered in Earth's past.

As for becoming a net carbon source, neither ocean nor land has diminished in their capacity to absorb the daemon gas CO2. It seems that CO, and hence wildfire rates are at a 2,000 year minimum due to human activity, and oceanographers have discovered that they really do not understand the behavior of the MOC (meridional overturning current). Looks like the IPCC predictions are either not proving out or were inaccurate to begin with.


Among the scariest predictions is a drop in world food production, leading to starvation, mass migration and war. It is predicted that some cereal crops—wheat, maize, barley, etc.—will decrease. Some crops will not do well as close to the equator as they do today, like winter wheat. But then, those same crops will be viable at higher latitudes with longer growing seasons than today. And just because it becomes too warm for one crop to do well doesn't mean that another cannot take its place, spring wheat replacing winter wheat, for instance. Those who study such things will tell you that the boundaries between crop zones is always shifting with the changing climate.

In a study of China's wheat and cotton production between 1981 and 2004, grain yield of winter wheat had decreased, but the yield of cotton had increased during the study period. The trend of climate warming appeared to be favorable for cotton production but unfavorable for winter wheat in northwest China. In North America a study appearing in PNAS provides a longer term prospective. In “Adapting North American wheat production to climatic challenges, 1839–2009,” Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode note that there have been significant shifts in crop production in the past:

The historical record offers insight into the capability of agriculture to adapt to climatic challenges. Using a new county-level dataset on wheat production and climate norms, we show that during the 19th and 20th centuries North American grain farmers pushed wheat production into environments once considered too arid, too variable, and too harsh to cultivate. As summary measures, the median annual precipitation norm of the 2007 distribution of North American wheat production was one-half that of the 1839 distribution, and the median annual temperature norm was 3.7°C lower. This shift, which occurred mostly before 1929, required new biological technologies. The Green Revolution associated with the pioneering work of Norman Borlaug represented an important advance in this longer process of biological innovation. However, well before the Green Revolution, generations of North American farmers overcame significant climatic challenges.

The authors observe that, though wheat cultivation was introduced into Mexico in 1521, wheat did not appear in areas which today comprise Canada and the United States until 1602. “Discovering wheats suitable for new areas was a reoccurring struggle,” they state. “Farmers in eastern Canada and New England continuously experimented to find cold-tolerant and and pest-resistant wheats.”

Shift in the North American spring–winter wheat frontier, 1869–1929.

Even since viable wheat strains were found the boundary between the planting zones for spring wheat and winter wheat has shifted significantly. As the map above shows, agriculture has changed in the past, and there is no reason to think it cannot adapt to future climate conditions. With new cropland becoming available, combined with modern agricultural and bio-engineering technologies, humanity should not fear food shortages because of global warming—things may actually improve. Of course, we could always take the advice of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and eat more cricket burgers and mealworm patties (see “Food Under Fire”).


There has been so much hot air over the rising of ocean water levels and the flooding of coastal areas that it is hard to discuss this category without condescension. The greater damage being done to coastal cities and low-lying areas by storms is not because the storms are worse or that sea-levels are higher—it is because there are so many more people living along the world's coastlines (see “Coastal Growth, Not Global Warming, Blamed for Rising Storm Losses”). Again, damage figures are an example of misleading statistics used by charlatans, simpletons or both.

Are millions of people about to be inundated with rising seas? Will 30% of global coastal wetlands be lost? There is little sign of such a rise so far. That aside, those threatened have been giving plenty of warning to take action. The Dutch are already working on expanding their system of dikes and levies. Which brings up the point that there are many places around the world that are already built on known flood plains or actually below sea-level: London, New Orleans, Venice and the Netherlands come immediately to mind. Even with flooding, the inhabitants of these areas are loath to leave, preferring to build higher seawalls.

Even rising tides won't make people move.

So it will be in the future, if human nature is any guide. Adaptability has always been H. sapiens' strong suit. Those “lost” wetlands, if they are submerged will most likely be replaced by new wetlands a bit further inland. And since wetlands generate a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas, a reduction in wetlands may not be a bad thing (assuming global warming is undesirable). The world's ocean levels have changed by hundreds of feet in the past and will do so again, whether humans have anything to do with it or not.


Finally, that any knowledgeable person could think that a warmer climate would be a detriment to human health is astounding. Why do Europeans vacation on the Cote d'Azur, Majorca and the Greek Islands? Why do North Americans retire to Florida and Arizona, while college students flock to Cancun and Cabo San Lucas on school break? Because warm is better than cold! Yet the ignorant IPCC prognosticators suggest that a warming climate will bring on malnutrition (from the failing food supply?), diarrhea (from flooding?), cardio-respiratory disease (blowing sand?) and infectious decrease (because they are scarry?).

Never mind that experts in infectious disease control have called this bunk. Malaria is the infectious desease most cited as a scourge waiting to be released by global warming. What the climate alarmist “experts” don't explain is that, during the 1800s, there were outbreaks of malaria in Chicago, St Petersburg and several Scandinavian cities. At the time those places were even colder than they are today, proving that it is not the cool climate that is preventing the spread of this “tropical” disease. Malaria was eradicated in most developed parts of the world through pest control.

According to one study, entitled “Climate change and the global malaria recession,” the link between climate change and malaria has been disproven. Writing in the Journal Nature, Peter W. Gething et al. have put paid to this piece of warmist scaremongering:

Predictions of an intensification of malaria in a warmer world, based on extrapolated empirical relationships or biological mechanisms, must be set against a context of a century of warming that has seen marked global declines in the disease and a substantial weakening of the global correlation between malaria endemicity and climate.

As I said in “Climate Change-Malaria Link Debunked,” that's science speak for “it doesn't work that way.” Beyond the over-hyped threats of infectious disease, consider the statistics accumulated by Bjørn Lomborg regarding cold verses heat induced deaths.

Lomborg has found disfavor among some global warming skeptics because he believes that it is actually happening—he just doesn't believe it is that big a deal. According to an article about Lomborg's findings in Discover, “Global Warming, the Great Lifesaver,” the scare about global warming caused heat deaths is a false argument:

For Europe as a whole, about 200,000 people die from excess heat each year. However, about 1.5 million Europeans die annually from excess cold. That is more than seven times the total number of heat deaths. Just in the past decade, Europe has lost about 15 million people to the cold, more than 400 times the iconic heat deaths from 2003. That we so easily neglect these deaths and so easily embrace those caused by global warming tells us of a breakdown in our sense of proportion.

The whole climate change disease and death scare simply does not stand up in the face of real-world data. Experts, experience and common sense all tell us that a warmer world is a healthier world.

Moving Against The Trend

The bottom-line question is this—should we be trying to stop global warming? As we have seen, most of the “bad” things climate change is supposed to cause are either not happening or are actually blessings in disguise. The universal pronouncement of global warming as being harmful is based on an assumption that every thing humans do is bad for the environment. This is patently untrue, as can be seen by a recent study that found humans responsible for a sharp downturn in wildfires.

According to most climatologists, the environmental change we should fear most is a return to glacial conditions. During the peak of the last glacial period, roughly 20,000 years ago, Northern Europe was covered largely by ice sheets, including all of Iceland and a majority of Great Britain. Approximately 97% of Canada was covered by ice, with ice sheets extending to approximately the location of the Missouri and Ohio Rivers. New York City was buried under as much as a mile of ice.

What wasn't covered in ice was mostly cold and arid.

Sea levels were about 120-135 meters (390-440 ft) below their present levels, which would place most of the world's seaport cities well inland. Glacial ice covered about 29% of Earth's land surface or about 17.14 million square miles (44.39 million km2). What did not lay beneath ice was mostly a cold and desolate desert landscape. This was due in large part to the colder, less-humid atmospheric conditions resulting from having so much of the planet's water supply frozen solid. Climate alarmists worry about global warming causing arid conditions and creating more deserts, when Earth's history shows the exact opposite happens.

The Cenozoic started with a much warm climate, with no ice sheets in either Antarctica or Greenland, but by the end of the era the planet had entered a cold phase. During the last 2 million years, glaciers have cyclically covered vast continental areas with thick layers of ice. This cooling was accompanied by an almost continuous loss in atmospheric CO2, which dropped from a concentration of around 2,000 ppm at the beginning of the era to just under 300 ppm during the last million years. As can be seen from the figure below, the dominant trend during the past 65 million years, after a warm peak during the Eocene, has been ever colder.

The temperature trend during the Cenozoic has been ever colder.

Earth during the last glacial period was not a very nice place to live. Summers were short and winters were brutal. Animal life and especially plant life had were hard pressed to survive. Science reaffirms what Dante only imagined—the innermost circle of hell is frozen, not hot and filled with flames. Humans did manage to survive the worst of the Pleistocene Ice Age, but it was a close run thing. Now, thanks to global warming, all that has changed, at least temporarily.

Since the rise of human civilization we have been blessed with good climatic conditions—most of the past 10,000 have been warmer than the present. With the exception of a brief cool period about 8,200 years ago, the entire period from 1,500 to 10,500 years ago was significantly warmer than present. The graph below is from Dr. Don J. Easterbrook, and is based on GISP2 Greenland ice core data. Consider all the attention that 2010 is getting as a contender for the “warmest year of the century.” Of the past 10,500 years, 9,100 were warmer than 1934/1998/2010) Thus, regardless of which year—1934, 1998, or 2010, NOAA keeps changing their data—proves to be the warmest of the past century, that year will rank number 9,099 in the long-term Holocene list.

Temperatures over the past 10,000 years recorded in the GISP2 Greenland ice core.

That kind of puts the hoopla about the “hottest year since” contest into perspective. For more detailed information see “2010 – where does it fit in the warmest year list?” on the Watts Up With That? website. Again, the point here is that warm is good and warmer is better. If not for global warming we would still be huddled in caves and hunting mastodon for dinner.

Some regions escaped glaciation during the Pleistocene Ice Age because they were too dry, a lack of snowfall prevented glacier formation. Other regions were too high in elevation for ice to cover them, or they were farther south than the glaciers advanced. Glacier-free zones are called refugia, and the plants and animals that survived there repopulated the world once the glaciers melted. Unless humanity wishes to be squeezed into similar areas for the next prolonged glacial period (lasting ~80,000 years) perhaps we should try to cause global warming.

The likely effects of global warming are more moderate weather at higher latitudes, more food from greater rainfall and longer growing seasons, and better health for all. Tropical regions are unlikely to be damaged and there will be fewer tropical storms. Commerce will be boosted as new trade routes appear around the formerly ice choked Arctic, which will also become available for oil and gas exploration. Sea-levels could rise a few feet over time (centuries), but you can build a dike around a city or even a country to hold the ocean at bay—there is nothing that can stop an advancing glacier.

This sure beats freaking out over global warming.

As Svante Arrhenius said more than 100 years ago, global warming will make Earth's climate “more equable.” Weigh the benefits against the detriments and the conclusion is obvious—instead of trying to stop global warming, at the very least we should kick back and do nothing.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.

Length of current interglacial.

Doug, do you have any opinion about how long the current interglacial is expected to last, or is it impossible to say?

I've just been reading Jan Zalasiewicz, "The Earth After Us". He reckons that though the Croll-Milankovitch cycles do not exactly repeat, the nearest astronomical conditions to our current situation occurred about 500,000 years ago, during the fourth interglacial prior to the current one, and that interglacial lasted 30,000 years, implying that our own interglacial has (before perturbations are added in) another 20,000 years to run.

Before we can begin to make any forecast of how the future climate will be perturbed by anthropogenic emissions, obviously there needs to be agreement on what the natural background climate change will be -- a point which alarmists seem to like to ignore.

Oxford, UK

Length of our Interglacial

Based on the lengths of previous interglacials, the Holocene warming may have anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000 years left to go. The presence of similar orbital configurations and comparable atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have led a number of scientists to the suggestion that Marine Isotope Stage 11 (MIS 11) is the previous interracial that most closely matches the Holocene. MIS 11 spans the period from 420 to 360 thousand years ago, and represents the longest and warmest interglacial interval of the last half million years. See my post “Sun & Cycles Heat Up Ice Age Interglacials.”

Re Length of our Interglacial

Thanks for that -- I've found your postings on the astronomical cycles now.

The book by Zalasiewicz I mentioned is notable for its easy populist assumption that our civilisation will collapse when fossil fuels run out and we'll quickly become extinct after that without even leaving any successor species -- an assumption I want to contradict as vigorously as possible!

Clearly the continuing interglacial is no protection against Little Ice Age conditions, but I'll enjoy what little warmth there is at present as best I can!

Oxford, UK

A thought

Even though I find your sketicism applied a bit strangely (OK I must admit, I am a scientist and agree with 97% of the climatologists:, fair enough. Just one thing, we can agree that it is OK with the climate so far. Now you postulate, that it actually may become better (better for whom? Humans of fungus?), even though most climatologists would disagree. Anyhow, what if you are wrong? Should we not try to keep the good climate as we have instead of risking to "kick back and do nothing" and making matters worse?

97% consensus????

I looked at your article (which then gave a separate link to this article )

Which is where you found the claim that 97% of climatologists say that global warming is man made.
Well, perhaps you might be interested in reading these articles about that

This is the paper in which the 97% consensus came from

Of the 3000 scientists surveyed in that paper, only 79 of those were climate scientists. 77 answered the 2nd question and 75 said that global warming was man made. Here is a quote from the article

"In our survey, the most specialized and knowledgeable respondents (with regard to climate change) are those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-­ reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total). Of these specialists, 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2."

75/77 = the 97% consensus

The claim that 97% of climatologists say global warming is man made came from a survey, where only 77 scientists participated. There are hundreds of climate scientists, 75 opinions make no difference whatsoever.

I think that you should actually check your facts, before you make claims like you just did.

That is the point

That is the whole point: the horrid effects of global warming are just as speculative and unscientifically based as the projections for large increases in average global temperature. Paleoclimate information indicate that things may actually be nicer for most of the globe if things do warm up a few more degrees (which is where they were earlier in the Holocene). I do not deny climate change—climate is always changing—but I do dispute claims by some that they know what will happen in the future. Our level of knowledge is so rudimentary, so laughable, such claims only prove hubris. As Feynman said, “science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.”

You should read my follow-on post, “Can't Fix Global Warming!” It explains why a number of scientists think that “doing something” may be worse than doing nothing.

Epic floods, records shattered: why not be skeptical?

T-shirt seen on Brisbane street: "I'm just getting warmed up."--Mother Nature

CO2 levels preventing ice age?

Actually, current CO2 levels are rather low in the grand scheme of things. Plants do not grow well at less than 200 ppm, and 280 is fairly close to that. Plants grow just fine and faster with better use of water and nutrients at up to 6000 ppm. MOst humans can tolerate 4000 ppm and with adaptation, this would be even easier. Greenhouses standardly raise CO2 to 1000-2000 ppm to promote growth.

So, if today's low CO2 is preventing an ice age, what did the much higher levels do? Of course, CO2 was much higher in the past and we still had ice ages. In fact, temperatures regularly crashed into the next ice age while CO2 was still high. If CO2 cannot maintain a warm climate, how can it make a climate warm?

settled science?

1934, 1998, or 2010, NOAA keeps changing their data

if their science is so "settled" then why do they need to keep changing their data?

it was enlightening to read that article from november 2, 1922 though. its interesting how that saying about knowing history or repeating it comes into play here as well.