WHAT’S WRONG WITH

GLOBAL WARMING?


The last time Earth had a balmy era,

good things happened.


By: Dennis T. Avery

C LIMATE EXTREMES WOULD TRIGGER METEOROLIOGICAL CHAOS---—RAGING HURRICANES CAPABLE OF KILLING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE; UNCOMMONLY LONG, RECORD -BREAKING HEAT WAVES; AND PROFOUND DROUGHT THAT COULD DRIVE AFRICA AND THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT INTO MASS STARVATION.” SEN. GEORGE J. MITCHELL, World on Fire (1991)



“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed---—and hence clamorous to be led to safety--—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”


---—H. L. MENCKEN,

Newspaper Columnist,

In Defense of Women (1920)



WE’VE ALL READ global-warming scare stories . Though some scientists insist there is cause for alarm, evidence indicates otherwise. Global warming may be coming, but if it does, it won’t necessarily be extreme. And it might actually be a boon for the environment.


 When Senator Mitchell presented his doomsday scenario, crude computer climate models were predicting two to three times as much warming as they currently do.


Now researchers say that the earth is likely to warm by about three degrees Fahrenheit during the next century. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t.


The world has experienced approximately that much warming fairly recently in history. And we loved it!


Between A.D. 900 and 1300, the earth warmed by some three degrees, according to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine Scholars refer to that period — one of the most favorable in human history— as the Medieval Climate Optimum.


Food production surged, many scientists believe, because winters were milder and growing seasons longer. Key agricultural regions experienced fewer floods and droughts. (There was more rainfall, but it evaporated more quickly.) Death rates declined in many places, partly because of the decrease in hunger and partly because people spent less time huddled in damp, smoke-filled hovels that helped spread tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.


Prosperity stimulated an outpouring of creativity---—in architecture, art and practical invention. In Europe, artisans built the soaring cathedrals that even today stun tourists with their beauty and engineering excellence. In Southeast Asia, the Khmer people built the huge temple complex of Angkor Wat. The Burmese built thousands of temples at their capital, Pagan. The windmill and spinning wheel entered daily life, while new iron-casting techniques led to better tools.


Trade flourished, in part because there were fewer storms at sea. The Vikings discovered Greenland around 950. It was so warm there that colonists supported themselves by pasturing cattle on what is now frozen tundra.


Farming moved farther north in Scandinavia, Russia and Japan. England was warm enough to support a thriving wine industry.


We know less about what went on in North America. We do know that the Great Plains, the upper Mississippi Valley and the Southwest apparently received more rainfall than now.


The Anasazi civilization grew abundant irrigated crops---—and then vanished when the Medieval Optimum ended and rainfall declined. And in North Africa there is some evidence that the Sahara shrank in response to the increase in rain.


There were negatives, of course. The steppes of Asia and parts of California, for instance, suffered dry periods. But over all, the medieval experience with global warming should reassure us greatly.


The latest evidence supports such optimism, say many scientists. The prospective warming is expected to moderate low nighttime and winter temperatures rather than raise day and summertime highs. Thus, it will produce little added stress on plants, trees---—or people.


The expected increase in carbon dioxide (C02) levels due to the burning of fossil fuels could create a “plant heaven.” CO2 acts as fertilizer for plants. More than a thousand experiments with food crops in 29 countries show that doubling the world’s carbon dioxide would raise crop yields by half. And with increased C02, forests all over the world should be more robust, allowing them to support more wildlife.


Most of the trillion-dollar estimates of global-warming costs headlined in the 1980s were based on forecasts that places such as New York City and Bangladesh would be drowned under rising seas from melting polar icecaps. That very frightening scenario, scientists say, is untrue. It may seem paradoxical, but a modest warming in the normally cold and dry polar regions will actually mean more arctic ice, not less. If temperatures warm a few degrees, there will be more moisture in the air, more snowfall, more polar ice.


Global—warming scare-mongers have also claimed that a warmer world could suffer more extreme weather. This too is unlikely . S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, says, “One would expect severe weather to be less frequent because of reduced equator-to-pole temperature gradients.”


In other words, the smaller the temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator, the milder the weather . Most of the warming, if it occurs, will be toward the poles, with very little increase near the equator . Thus, there would be less of the temperature difference that drives big storms.


HISTORY and the science of climatology indicate that we have nothing to fear but fearmongers themselves. Any global warming in the 21st century should be modest, bringing back one of the most pleasant and productive environments humans--—and wildlife--—have ever enjoyed.


SOURCE:

READERS DIGEST Magazine

August 1999. (Pgs. 45-48).

Volume 155. No. 928



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