Some present global warming as a threat to all life on the planet; others say that at best it’s a threat to human well-being. In fact, if the world is warming, that would confer many benefits, especially on those who live in the coldest climates.
Every change in our living conditions creates gains and losses, winners and losers, advantages and disadvantages. Throughout history, people have responded to change like Cassandras or Pollyannas, pessimists or optimists. The use of fear to sway public opinion, coupled with people’s natural aversion to change and media amplification of the problems it brings, has brought us to our current focus on the negatives, the problems and the disadvantages of global warming.
Scientists have noticed and discussed climate change, and then fear-mongers have magnified it into a threat. The possibility of global warming is a classic example. Here’s the conclusion of journalist Don Philpott, author of Global Warming: How Serious Is The Threat?, a paper published in January: “Global heating threatens our health with the elderly, young and poor particularly at risk. It threatens our ability to grow crops and store them safely. It opens the door to a fearsome spread of diseases; it threatens drinking water supplies and air quality.”
Sounds fearsome, doesn’t it? My response is, “Thank goodness for global warming.” Just 20,000 years ago, Canada was under a massive ice sheet, two kilometres thick in the Hudson Bay region. Just 300 years ago, a Little Ice Age would have precluded agriculture as practiced in Canada today. In fact, just 30 years ago global cooling was the scientific consensus, transmitted to the public by the same transmission belt, the popular press.
We were told in 1976, by libertarian radio host, Lowell Ponte, in his book, The Cooling: “This cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people. If it continues and no strong action is taken, it will cause world famine, world chaos and world war, and this could all come about before the year 2000.” Mount Pinatubo in the Phillipines erupted in 1991, and that event caused a 1°C drop in the global temperature in 1992, resulting in a late, poor harvest in Canada and close to no harvest at all. Cooling is a much greater problem for Canadians.
What happened in Canada as it emerged from under the ice? 15,000 years ago, flora and fauna quickly moved in. In more recent times, the tree line moved north an average 200 kilometres in Northern Manitoba since the nadir of the little Ice Age, a period of global cooling that followed what’s called the “medieval climate optimum.” That’s about one kilometre per year. Aboriginal people moved north to capture the opportunities provided by warming 6,000 and again 1,000 years ago. Contrary to what you hear, historic evidence shows that warming offers plants, animals and people greater chances for development and survival.
In warmer times, Queen Elizabeth the First had a geopolitical goal of controlling the north Atlantic and north Pacific by dominating the Northwest Passage and Arctic waters. Several people, especially Frobisher in the east and Drake in the west (see Sam Bawlf’s book, The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake) were looking to establish settlements at each end. Elizabeth was a leader with vision.
A more recent comment on the potential of the north came from the Royal Society in 1817: “…[N]ew sources of warmth have been opened and give us leave to hope that the Arctic Seas may at this time be more accessible than they have been for centuries past, and that discoveries may now be made in them not only interesting to the advancement of science but also to the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations.”
Canada is one of the few countries with access to three oceans. As we evolved as a nation, the focus shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. That left the centre essentially landlocked. But this will change if global warming occurs as predicted by the doomsayers. Access to the Arctic Ocean as ice conditions ameliorate and temperatures increase will open another door to the world.
Ironically, for 200 years most western development and settlement came through the ports at York Factory and Churchill. The plan for a Hudson’s Bay route—by the trading company, now a retailer, with the same name—tried to continue this pattern but essentially failed because of political domination by the east and a three-month limit to the shipping season by insurance companies. With icebreaker support, new cargo vessels and better insurance, the current shipping season could be extended to 5 or 6 months. Predicted warming would extend this even more. Commerce with the Western Europe, Russia eastern Asia is shorter and more direct because great circle routes put Arctic and Hudson Bay ports closer to Europe and Asia.
Just a brief list of the benefits to our coldest province, Manitoba, and the coldest city, Winnipeg, illustrates the positive potential of global warming:
- Reduced heating costs,
- Reduced fuel bills for travel,
- A longer growing season allowing a greater variety of crops,
- Less frost damage and crop loss,
- A greater variety of plants for gardens and other uses,
- More rapidly growing forests and an increased rate of reforestation,
- Less frost damage to streets and roads,
- The potential for direct access to world markets through northern ports,
- Reduced construction costs in an ameliorated climate, and
- A longer summer season for tourism, and for cottagers and campers.
A warmer Canada would improve our lives in these and other ways too numerous to list. Global warming? Let’s hope so.
A former Professor of Geography at the University of Winnipeg, Dr. Tim Ball is now retired and enjoying the warmer climate in Victoria, B.C. He serves on the Frontier Centre’s advisory board.