Every so often, Seed magazine asks its community of science bloggers to comment on a question. It helps make the place more of an interactive community and probably encourages readers to try out some of the blogs that they might not regularly follow. At least, that's how it works for me. They're only asking the questions of the blogs that they host, but there is nothing to stop other bloggers from throwing in their two cents worth. This week's question caught my interest, so here I am.
The question is:
I read this article in the NRO, and the author actually made some interesting arguments. "Basically," he said, "I am questioning the premise that [global warming] is a problem rather than an opportunity." Does he have a point?
The article in question by James S. Robbins, is called "Hooray for Global Warming" and is a real horror. This is his thesis:
Global warming is great. Granted, maybe it isn’t really happening, and if it is there are strong reasons to doubt that humans have anything to do with it. But if the world is warming, I say “bravo.” People in most parts of the globe should have no objection to a warmer, wetter climate. If the aliens were watching they’d conclude we were making our planet more habitable on purpose.
I'm all in favor of it even though it isn't happening. He flips back and forth between those two points and gets in the expected slaps at Al Gore and the Left. He brings up the, by now, quite tired argument that we'll be able to farm arctic Canada. He implies that the whole thing is a socialist plot to encourage big government seizures of wealth and writes one paragraph of tone perfect, blind, conservative ranting.
Granted, there will be some negative impacts in marginal areas. Some rare plant and animal species, hyper-adapted to highly specific climate conditions or micobiotic zones, are already unable to cope with the change. Many may go extinct; some already have. That’s tough, but chalk it up to bad evolutionary choices. When those rigidly specialist species bet everything on a small part of the world in hopes it would never change, they made a very bad bargain. For our part, we have air conditioners, lightweight fabrics, and sunscreen. Why infinitely adaptable humanity has to pay the price for the evolutionary shortsightedness of other life forms is beyond me.
It displays and arrogant and contemptuous ignorance of science. Carl Zimmer points out that "micobiotic" isn't even a word and that "microbiotic," if that's what he meant, means something completely different (it's a type of dirt). His cold hearted lecture on responsibility in making evolutionary choices is so over the top that I would think it was a parody if it appeared in any other source.
So, besides being a complete doofus, mouthing conservative talking points without thinking about them, does Robbins have a point? Are their opportunities to be had in global warming? Of course there are.
- Pharmaceutical companies have made a fortune off of AIDS. As tropical diseases like malaria begin to spread in wealthy, formerly-temperate countries those same companies will make billions selling medicines that formerly went to countries that couldn't pay premium prices.
- Construction companies have made big bucks "rebuilding" Iraq and New Orleans. Imagine how much work they'll have when every coastal city in the world needs to be protected from tidal surges or rebuilt inland. Again, this won't be the usual mass destruction happening to dirt poor people in the tropics; it will be happening to people who can afford to pay premium prices.
- Energy companies have wanted to drill for oil on the Arctic coastal shelf for decades but have been prevented by their inability to work among moving ice flows. No ice flows, no problem.
- Do I need to explain what a couple billion people forced to move will do for the real estate market?
Global warming presents major opportunities for certain corporation to make enormous profits.** The companies in line to make those profits just happen to be among the most dependable supporters of the Republican Party. For a conservative, what's not to like about global warming?
* Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Warming
** Before civilization completely collapses, that is.