The science is in- mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, and they need to be reduced by 80%. The science is really not too different from previous reports, just the numbers keep looking worse. This year, in a 332 consecutive month warming trend, we have experienced dangerous wildfires, drought, and airplanes melting into the runway. Climate change weakens sea snails shells, decimates bamboo forests, and makes poison ivy worse. Increased CO2 output even causes faster satellites and increasing space junk. So, with all the destructive effects, I started to wonder who would benefit from climate change. RPI’s only Nobel Laureate Ivar Giaever claims we are better off because of the warming, yet does not give reasons why. Similarly, Koch Industries and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) set up a table highlighting the “many benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment”. We even have a CO2isGreen.org! While some areas and industries will see marginal gain, the negative aspects of climate change will affect everyone.
Utility companies were one sector I thought might benefit from a worsening climate. As more people across the planet become accustomed to air conditioning and heating, energy consumption for cooling could grow to 10 trillion kilowatt hours per year. (Half of the energy we already use today) In doing so, the increased reliance on fossil fuels will cause a proportional increase in the Earth’s temperature, further exacerbated by the extremely high global warming potential of hydroflourocarbon refrigerants. As a positive feedback loop, the warming temperatures require a higher cooling load, (more electricity) which in turn causes more warming. Both in the local and global climate, air conditioning for one person means more heat for another, and the rich are going to be more likely to benefit from it. Utility companies would benefit from the extra revenue, but increasing temperatures will likely hurt their bottom line as well. Coal, hydro and nuclear electric generation plants produce the vast majority of U.S. electricity. As the incoming water (to make steam for the turbines) gets heated by global warming, coal and nuclear plants have to shut down. Hydroelectric dams can still operate, but the supply goes down. So, if the utility companies won’t benefit, the extractive industries that supply the fuel might instead.
As oil companies continue to deplete deposits in temperate regions like the Gulf of Mexico, drilling in the warming Arctic ice is more tempting. Warmer temperatures melt the ice into water; more methane seeps out of the permafrost, and plant life arises out of frozen organic matter. The water and plants, being darker than ice, absorbs more heat and melts more ice. The albedo effect, as it is known, could enter into a tipping point, releasing up to 135 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2100. Oil companies are excited by the melting Arctic, as one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas are above the Arctic Circle. Despite failed attempts, Companies such as Shell and Statoil have invested billions in the region, yet the warming region and longer drilling seasons might not result in a net gain for oil or the rest of the economy. It will produce “an increasing number of menacing icebergs and lead to a dangerous rise in the sea level,” that will severely affect hurricane-battered offshore drilling rigs, (Klare, Blood and Oil, Location 1235 of 6515). This is likely why Total SA, the world’s fourth largest publicly traded oil company, said that offshore Arctic drilling would be a “disaster”. Oil companies are not the only ones to benefit though. In coal-dependent India, increased dust storms could mean the end of many utility solar plants, so the coal industry is likely appreciative of the storms.
If anyone does truly benefit from a worsening climate, it is definitely not the general public. The World Health Organization believes the temperature increases are the cause of over 150,000 deaths per year, and that number could double by 2030. The United States has the largest increase in natural disasters, and this has a highly adverse effect on low and middle income Americans. The associated drought has not been friendly either. Low river water levels will be devastating to the transport of our goods, and water availability will pit Americans against each other. Farmers need water to irrigate their plants, but natural gas companies use literally truckloads of water to get their fuel. According to the New York Times, some farmers will have to pay $100 for an acre foot of water, up from $30, but gas companies pay ten to twenty times as much as that. For more information about the climate impacts on our food system, click here. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of it all- we could lose our coffee and chocolate. Cocoa producers in West Africa are struggling due to the worsening climate, and the United States will be impacted by interruptions in the $83 billion a year business.
My father, an allergist in the worst area in the country to have allergies, has indirect financial gain from increased asthma, coal pollution and climate change. According to Scientific American, as the climate gets worse, allergies get worse than the already $21 billion annual cost. A more sensible and informed decision includes purchasing solar panels and other renewable energy, so he can cure patients’ asthma both preventatively and retroactively. In doing so, he proves his concern is more of helping patients than making money, but he can do plenty of both with the expected 12 year payback. While he is only one of over 312 million in the United States, it is a notable example of the ways we can reduce our climate impacts to preserve everyone’s way of life.
Climate change led to the fall of the Maya, and it will damage the economy far more so than stopping it. When the effects of global warming and climate change increase, a very few will benefit at the expense of many. In a sad example of irony, companies that will benefit from global warming are largely the ones causing it. This would explain why they will admit to the warming but disapprove of any climate legislation. The Pentagon has officially labeled climate change a threat to national security, with increasing possibility of water and resource wars associated with a worsening climate. The United States, European Union, and China emit the most, but large cities and island nations will have to evacuate their land. Except for us mountain men in Appalachia, we all suffer from a worsening climate in one way or another, so we should act now to induce social change and mitigate climate change.