It's cold tonight, and I sit at my desk, wishing it were warmer. Even with central heat and air, winter is a difficult time. My sinuses are inflamed, my knuckles are dry and red, and my joints are sore with the cold. Every year I dread it more. And now environmentalists like Jeff Bezos want to make it colder.
It's no accident that Shakespeare wrote of "the winter of our discontent" (Richard III) and of "the icy fang / And churlish chiding of the winter's wind" (As You Like It). Shakespeare, who lived through some of the coldest decades of the Little Ice Age, found nothing to like about winter. Nor did Dickens, who wrote often of "the winter of despair," or, in a line about the short days of winter that applies to today's liberals, "Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it." Turn off the lights — you're burning too much fossil fuel!
The fact is that cold is more damaging than heat. Long, cold winters followed by cold, damp springs and summers diminish crop yields, leading to global hunger. If the Earth were a few degrees warmer, that heat would expand corn and wheat belts to the north. In terms of global food security, it is cold we should fear, not heat.
In the Little Ice Age, roughly from the 14th through the mid-19th century, global cooling limited food production, resulting in widespread hunger, disease, and economic stagnation. In northern Europe, for instance, population growth was stagnant until the 19th century, and for most people, there was little improvement in daily life until after 1800. In Britain, for example, population has soared from10 million in 1800 to over 66 million today. That would not have been possible in a period of cooler temperatures.
Globally, 5.4 million die each year from cold-related deaths, while only 311,000 deaths are heat related. Just in the U.S., on average, 1,330 die from the cold each year, and snow and ice cause over 150,000 traffic accidents annually. Just as a matter of human comfort, heat is preferable to cold. There is a reason why tens of millions of retirees have moved to Florida and Arizona. No one retires in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
There are many other benefits to warming. Some 40% of the U.S. corn crop is now used to produce clean-burning ethanol — larger crops would support even greater use of ethanol and contribute to U.S. energy independence. Warming would also further open the Northwest Passage for freighters, thus cutting two weeks off the time it takes to transport goods between Asia and eastern Canada, and cutting fuel use as well (though most arctic traffic will continue to pass through Russia's Northern Sea Route).
It would be wonderful if humans actually did have the power to raise global temperatures. As it is, that power is limited. For millennia, global temperatures have risen and fallen based on natural cycles resulting from the shifting of the Earth's axis and other natural forces. These forces created the Great Ice Age and the Little Ice Age, periods that were followed by periods of warming, and that cycle of alternating warming and cooling has been taking place throughout the Earth's history. We are fortunate to live in a period of warming, however slight that has been. The danger is that we may slip back into another extended period of cold.
This is not just a remote possibility. The winter of 2017–18 was unusually cold and long, resulting in late planting and reduced crop yields in the temperate regions. And according to scientists at NASA's Langley Research Center, thenext 20 years may see a repeat of 2017–18 or worse. That is because we are entering a period of extended solar minima in which the Earth's temperature declines as a result of lower sunspot activity. Don't donate your parkas to Goodwill just yet, and prepare to eat less salad. If temperatures drop even to a fraction of what happened during the Little Ice Age, Florida and California will experience extreme cold — with damage to winter crops like lettuce and tomato.
Environmentalists believe that higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to warming, but CO2, in and of itself, is hardly a bad thing. It is common knowledge that plant growth is increased in the presence of higher levels of CO2. Plant life on Earth has increased by 14% in the last 30 years as a result of increased CO2 levels and slightly higher temperatures. Apparently, environmentalists wish to reduce plant life on earth, including staple crops. If crop yields had not increased during the past 30 years, millions of human beings would have suffered from hunger. Is it the intention of the environmental movement to reduce crop yields?
If humans could control the Earth's climate, it would be good to raise temperatures as an offset to future periods of cooling already predicted by climate scientists. Unfortunately, there seems to be no compelling evidence that human activity can alter temperatures to anything beyond a fraction of a degree, if that.
What we can do is to prepare for whatever comes our way, but to do that, we must be prosperous. At an estimated cost of between $51 and $93 trillion over ten years, the Green New Deal will destroy wealth in the U.S. and make it impossible to defend against natural variations in the climate. Other schemes, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, would add many billions more to the cost. There must have been plenty of cave men during the Great Ice Age who wished they had central heating. If we avoid spending on costly environmental boondoggles, we will have the funds to live safely and comfortably no matter what happens.
Periods of global warming and cooling are inevitable. This time around, human beings may be able to cope with it. Unlike those who suffered through the Little Ice Age and the period of warming that followed it, modern humans possess the resources to survive whatever nature throws at us — that is, if we don't squander those resources on misguided schemes like the Green New Deal.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination: Conservative Values in American Literature from Poe to O'Connor to Haruf (2011).