6 Global Warming Side Effects That Are Sort Of Awesome
The way things are going, we can expect global warming to wipe out humanity in the next few years. Or never, it's not completely clear. So why dwell on negatives like drowning deaths and widespread panic? There's a bright side of our impending doom to look forward to and plenty of good things catastrophic climate change may bring to you (and the environment).
It Could Delay a Far Worse Ice Age
In general, humans do better in extreme heat than extreme cold--a lot more of us live around the warm equator than the frigid poles. So it makes sense that global warming wouldn't be nearly the disaster that, say, a new Ice Age would be. Especially when you take into account the fact that we've yet to find crops that like to grow under three feet of ice.
A new Ice Age isn't the stuff of science fiction, either. These cooling periods have happened at least four times that we know about, caused by slight changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun that happen from time to time. It's a regular cycle. Our current warming is not, however, part of that cycle. Right now we should be cooling down, but thanks to those brave souls who refuse to give up Hummers, make margaritas with diesel-powered blenders and drive their hovercrafts to get the daily mail, we're not. This may not be all bad news, if the warming will wind up delaying or blunting the effects of the next Ice Age, as some experts think it will.
Maybe it will at least stop this one.
On the Other Hand...
Of course, some might call this a draw as we may be trading an Ice Age for living on an overheated desert planet where everyone has to wear suits that make us drink our recycled pee and take sandworms to commute to work in the Spice mines where our boss is Sting in a Diaper.
In other words, the Earth doesn't have a thermostat that we can adjust up or down one or two degrees to keep us comfortable. What we humans need is as little change as possible, and we could be setting up a situation where we spend the next few centuries adapting to a warmer world and cutting greenhouse emissions, only to then get sucker punched by the next Ice Age when it eventually arrives.
Warmer Winters Means Fewer Deaths
We try to keep things light-hearted here, so let's put it this way: Every winter someone, or 10,000 someones, forgets to turn up grandma's thermostat and by the time Christmas rolls around the family gathers to discover a Grandma-cicle under the Christmas tree.
OK, that was actually much more disturbing than if we had just said it outright: Winter kills people. Not just from freezing to death, either; warmer winters will save people from dying of pretty much EVERYTHING. Studies have shown that cold causes more of almost every kind of death, from heart attacks to digestive system disorders to infectious diseases, all of which jump in cold winter temperatures. For example, respiratory disease jumps 149 percent in colder winters. Death by digestive system failure shoots up 113 percent. Even parasitic deaths leap by 112 percent despite the common wisdom that hot temperatures make for prime parasite paradise. And of course, warmer temps equal less ice which equal less vehicular manslaughter.
Name a way to die and most likely colder temperatures increase the odds. Now here comes the freaky part: Scientists don't know why. One theory is cold temperature puts more strain on virtually every system of the body, and of course the fact that everybody is packed indoors probably helps spread bugs around. Either way, the cold is hard on us humans, and milder winters can only help.
Extreme cold makes literally everything worse.
On the Other Hand...
The above studies were done in the United States, and probably does apply to all industrialized countries with similar climates. Meanwhile, the people living near the equator are going to be getting their asses kicked by climate change--everything from coastal flooding, to drought in already-starving countries, to Malaria. Still... we're going to save so much on mittens here.
We May Grow More Food
If you're a farmer in America or Europe, or a multinational conglomerate that owns all the farms, global warming is your friend. As temperatures rise, areas formerly barren, like tundra, will begin to produce vegetation. In addition, increased temps will create longer growing seasons and yields will also benefit from fewer crop-killing freezes. Canada and parts of Europe could start growing more food right away.
Also, remember that plants eat CO2. The additional CO2 global warming brings will increase photosynthesis in plants, making the process more efficient, requiring less water. With new, water-sipping plants, not only can we expect more food, trees and agriculture with fewer resources, but a cheaper, easier way to create biofuels, which up to this point have created more ecological damage than good.
It could be a no-win situation.
Hell, what are we even worried about?
On the Other Hand...
Climate change also messes with rainfall patterns, and could turn a lot of the current farmland we depend on into the Dust Bowl. We just don't know. Maybe we'll be knee-deep in corn cobs. Maybe we'll all starve. It'll be a surprise! That's the thing, when you're talking about your food supply, uncertainty is automatically a bad thing. Most people would rather eat at a restaurant where they know they'll get a mediocre steak every time, than one where you may get either Kobe beef or a cow turd depending on the mood of the chef.
Cheaper Imported Goods
Ever since man realized that there was money to be made by piling valuable things on a boat and selling them to faraway lands where they're even more valuable, we've had one huge problem: To get back and forth between two of the biggest markets--Asia and Europe--your boats have to sail this massive pain-in-the-ass route...
...during which basically everybody on board would be dead of scurvy or eaten by a kraken. Because of this and other reasons, explorers were continually sailing around Canada trying to find a way to do this instead:
We literally spent centuries trying to sail through the frozen Northwest Passage over Canada, even though expedition after expedition found themselves wedged in 20 feet of ice every time. Even after we built the Panama and Suez canals to make it less of a pain in the ass to get from one ocean to the other, it would still be hugely beneficial to have the Northwest Passage opened up.
Global warming is about to give it to us, because all of that ice is finally melting up there (for part of the year, anyway). If so, it'll shorten some shipping Europe-to-Asia shipping routes by half. Goods will get there faster, and cheaper.
On the Other Hand...
There are also massive offshore oil reserves ready to be exploited under that ice, and they will exploit them.
That sounds like great news until you realize it's oil that got us into this situation in the first place. Also, you know that horrific oil spill currently turning America's gulf coast black and brown? Drilling up there will be done with platforms just like the one that blew up, only with the added benefit that nobody is quite sure how to clean up a similar spill if it should happen in the Arctic.
Eh, we'll figure it out when it happens.
It Might Actually Decrease Hurricanes
Right around Hurricane Katrina was when everybody started talking about how global warming would give us more hurricanes. The idea is that hurricanes are the result of heat energy getting released from the ocean, so warmer oceans means more hurricanes. Seems to make sense.
However a recent study suggests otherwise, a pair of oceanographers saying fewer hurricanes have struck the United States in the period when we've noticed the oceans getting warmer. They think they know why, too. Apparently warmer temperatures increase vertical wind shear that disrupts storms as they form in the Atlantic, before they can go howling toward Florida. Everyone owes global warming an apology, dammit!
On the Other Hand...
There will be fewer hurricanes, but the ones we have will be stronger. It's like some kind of cyclonic natural selection.
Oh, "CycloNIC." Never mind.
They expect the strength of the storms to go up by about 11 percent, which sounds like nothing until you realize that equals a 60 percent increase in damage--presumably because that next 11 percent lets the storm cross the "my house was built to handle this" threshold where your roof flies away.
It May Save the Rainforest
Everybody worries about the future of the rainforest, since we're chopping it down just as fast as we can run the chainsaws. Plus, as warming changes rainfall patterns and diverts rain away from the equator, scientists have long feared a dryer rainforest would quickly die off. But it looks like the rainforest may be taking care of itself just fine. And by take care of itself we don't mean "conveniently falling over to make way for a Denny's."
Warmer temperatures and added nitrogen from acid rain have actually been good for the vegetation in rainforests. And, even weirder, rainforests seem to be doing better with less rain. The theory is that less rain means less cloud cover, and it looks like what the plants lose in water, they gain in direct sunlight.
Not a universal victory.
Now you might think, Well lack of water doesn't sound particularly good for plant life. Remember what we said about increased efficiency in photosynthesis due to higher temperatures? In fact, the plant life common to rainforests seems to be thriving in drought situations. And it goes around calling itself a rainforest? What a lying asshole.
You're living a lie! Also, take a bath!
On the Other Hand...
There's a pretty good chance that this simply means we'll work to chop it down faster. Humans have hacked away about 20 percent of the rainforest to make room for grazing cows we can turn into hamburgers for McDonald's, and we're still wiping out about 1,000 square kilometers a month. So global warming may help the rainforests recover faster, humanity usually just takes that sort of thing as a challenge.
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