Barry Lynn
Intersection of Science and Policy

Global Warming Is (Not) Good for the Planet

Will doggy shoes and winter coats still be needed in the future? Photo by Barry Lynn (Vilnius, Lithuania)

One might have the feeling that winter is winding down.  After intense and continuous rains, there was a bit of rain last night and some more is expected on Wednesday and Thursday (15/16 of February).  In fact, the United States’s NCEP GEFS suggests that winter will indeed continue to wind down as we move into the last week of February.   However, the European Center’s ensemble (EPS) suggests at least one last chance for cold and stormy weather.

While it has been cold the last couple of weeks, it has been a relatively brief period of cold within a much milder winter.   At the old homestead in NY, my mother tells me that there has been no (that’s NONE) snow so far this year. There’s been rain, but it’s simply been too warm for snow.   Another acquaintance tells me that the ticks are migrating north of Stockholm, further into the woods as winters have warmed.  The central and more recently northeastern United States have been the recipient of intense cold featured in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow“, but much shorter duration.  This is a result of the breakdown in the normally robust polar vortex. There have been extreme heat waves that have pushed the boundaries of what in the past might have been defined as the upper-percentile of heat.  There have been intense floods.

So, why do we hear the refrain “global warming is good for the planet?”

While it’s true that growing seasons can be extended where there are milder winters than in the past, and it’s true plants grow better in higher carbon dioxide atmospheres, there’s a delicate balance between water availability for growth and atmospheric demand.   If the demand is high (humidity is low and the leaves are warm), the leaf stomata can close regardless of the supply of water.  Moreover, the higher the demand for water the greater the likelihood there will be a shortage.

But, the real question you need to ask is what does the question mean?  How do you define: “good for the planet?”  It’s a very broad statement without any broad evidence to back it up. From the perspective of my blueberries, the winter has been too warm for optimum yield.  For me, it’s just a hobby, but what about for those who make a business out of growing fruits such as blueberries and cherries?  Grapes no longer grow on certain mountain slopes because it’s too warm. From the perspective of those who make a good part of their livelihood clearing snow from driveways, what do they do now?  From those who provide winter sports, what do they do now?  Outdoor activities in the summer?  Too hot.

The most important issue is that we’re close to 8 billion people on the planet, and we have an interconnected ecosystem.  We seem to live in an ideal time climatewise, and disruptions to the climate can lead to large scale societal disruptions.

The refrain may be: in the past it was cold — too cold.  We’re actually in an ice.  Warmer is better.  Look how well the dinosaurs did back then?  The climate has always changed.  Prove to me that carbon dioxide leads to global warming.

These are valid questions, and they have a kernel of truth.  We’re actually in an interglacial period of an ice age that ended a relatively short time ago. Certainly, we don’t want to return to it.  But these types of arguments don’t address the here and now.   They don’t answer how weather changes in areas that rely on winter rains are good for those regions.  What happens when winters shorten (like here) in areas that transition between weather regimes (moist/rainy versus dry/hot) and by bad luck we’re not even the recipient of our recent February rains? Or how will plants and crops adapt to water and heat stresses?  Will farmers be forced to find irrigation waters and will they be available?  How many more forests will burn in the extreme heat?  Or how can infrastructure be modified to weather intense floods?

True, it would be correct to say that in the past it was more likely that Carbon Dioxide concentrations followed changes in the earth’s climate (due to changes in the earth’s distance from the sun and or tilt).  Hence, we have scant long-term historical evidence that Carbon Dioxide has led to climate changes in the past.  So, where’s the proof, I’m often asked.  Actually, the only proof we have is the recent present, and that’s why we have to use climate models to predict decades into the future.  While these models have their flaws (including lacking the impact of pollution on atmospheric variability and sea surface temperatures), they’re the best we’ve got to understand where we’re going if we don’t make changes.

Regarding the recent present, the argument that we have no evidence that CO2 can lead to heating also flies in the face of 50 years of global heating since the 1970s. Action is called for because we don’t want to find out that our best attempt at prognosticating climate was correct in that there will be a further increase in temperatures.  True, there were other periods of time when the world’s average temperature warmed, but our upward trend seems relentless.  It has naysayers relying on a reduction in solar energy to cool us down, overlooking the other upside of the solar cycle.

In a sense, it’s like a dinosaur burying its head in the sand.  The meteorite is coming, he or she says to him or herself, but we don’t have any evidence that it will do that much damage.  True, we have models that show that we’re all going to die, but those are just models.  Let’s wait and see what really happens.

Well, we’re not dinosaurs and we have brain sizes larger than a walnut.  Are we going to make broad, unsubstantiated statements that “Global Warming is Good for the Planet,” or are we going to draw the opposite conclusion: IT IS NOT!

By the way, if you ask CHATgpt: Is global warming good for the planet? Or why is it so? —  you get a variant of the answer below.  In other words, this artificial intelligence suggests that you’re asking a silly question.  I tried to find reasons why it might be wrong, and I’m very hard pressed to do so.

“There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that global warming is good for the planet. In fact, the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that global warming, caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, is having a profound and negative impact on the planet and its ecosystems.

Rising temperatures are leading to the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, which is causing sea levels to rise and threatening coastal communities. Warmer waters are also contributing to the bleaching and death of coral reefs, which are critical habitats for marine life. In addition, global warming is changing precipitation patterns, causing droughts in some regions and floods in others, which is affecting agriculture and putting food supplies at risk.

Furthermore, warming temperatures are leading to the spread of diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, into new areas, putting more people at risk of infection. Finally, global warming is exacerbating extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires, which are causing widespread damage and loss of life.

In conclusion, the overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that global warming is not good for the planet and is instead having a profound and negative impact on the environment and human societies.”

About the Author
Dr. Barry Lynn has a PhD in Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences. He has an undergraduate degree in Biology. He is a researcher/lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is the CTO of Weather It Is, LTD, a weather forecasting and consulting company.
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