State of Green Business

Climate change is good for you! Wait: It’s April 1st. Or is it?

Two Steps Forward

Climate change is good for you! Wait: It’s April 1st. Or is it?

A confession: My colleagues and I at GreenBiz Group were pondering an April Fool’s story — you know, a Big Development that makes you angry or amused, until you discover that you’re the victim of an editorial prank. (Grist is the master of these.) We batted around several ideas, though none quite rose to the high standards of the April Fool’s artform.

But then, from the editorial effluent that floods our in-box each day, came this press release: “Benefits of Global Warming Greatly Exceed Costs, New Study Says.” We were sure someone had beaten us to the punch. However, this was no joke.

Once in a while, reality achieves parity with parody.

The press release, from the right-wing Heartland Institute, informed us of a just-released study (PDF) concluding that the benefits of global warming “greatly exceed any plausible estimate of its costs.” It was the product of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, a group of climate-denying scientists established to counter the findings of the similar-sounding Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, the Nobel Prize-winning group established by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization to provide a scientific consensus on climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

IPCC's latest report, released Sunday, detailed the — well, non-benefits of climate change: food shortages, ecosystem collapse, heat-related mortality, civil conflicts and more. It pointed out that climate change is likely to ratchet up the stress placed on natural and human systems, with the likely result of increasingly frequent breakdowns in the functioning of human society. It detailed the impacts a changing climate is already having on essential food crops — in most cases lowering productivity — and warned that food availability and price swings could lead to civil unrest in countries unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens. (Our friend Andy Revkin, in his New York Times blog Dot Earth, does a nice job of summarizing the IPCC report here.)

The Heartland’s unabashedly upbeat report, released a few hours later, would have none of this. It begins:

The human impact on global climate is small, and any warming that may occur as a result of human carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions, is likely to have little effect on global temperatures, the cryosphere (ice-covered areas), hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, and rivers) or weather.

The authors concluded that:

Higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures benefit nearly all plants, leading to more leaves, more fruit, more vigorous growth and greater resistance to pests, drought and other forms of “stress.” Wildlife benefits as their habitats grow and expand. Even polar bears, the poster child of anti-global warming activist groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), are benefiting from warmer temperatures.

Negative impacts of climate change — such as how it will injure coral and other forms of marine life, possibly leading to marine ecosystem collapse — “lack scientific foundation and often are grossly exaggerated,” say the authors.

This is hardly the first issue on which the Heartland Institute has questioned overwhelming scientific consensus, attempting to sow controversy and slow action. Among its previous issues are second-hand smoke, acid rain and ozone depletion. It once placed billboards comparing climate change “believers” to the Unabomber.

It’s not that the Heartland study is devoid of dire warnings. For example, it predicts, “Dramatically reducing the use of fossil fuels would have devastating effects on workers and consumers of both the developed and developing worlds, leading to severe hardship and even deaths.” In other words: Drill, baby, drill. Or else.

I wish we could have made all that up. It would have been a nifty April Fool’s spoof. But sometimes the truth is better.

Besides, you know what they say about humor: It’s a funny thing. 

Photocollage by GreenBiz Group