Canadians see silver lining in global warming; farming, shipping gain
TORONTO — Predicted climate change might not be bad for everyone.
Canada would be a net economic winner, according to an April U.N. report cited by a number of authorities during interviews in recent days. The paper predicted that milder temperatures would expand agriculture while boosting the economy with lower winter heating bills.
Yale University economics and environment professor Robert Mendelsohn lists a number of gains that Canada could expect from a 50to 100-year shift to a generally warmer and wetter climate.
Among them would be the ability to grow fruit and vegetables in areas that now are useful only for grain, and the opening of iced-over Arctic waters to navigation and other commercial uses.
“Canadians will clearly be better off in the future than they are today. I can say that with confidence,” he predicted. “The most dramatic gains could be in agriculture, depending on precipitation.”
However, the complexity of global climate and limited understanding of data pose major problems in modeling climate change.
Mr. Mendelsohn said many of the consequences of global warming are unknown, such as changes in the type and size of cloud cover and precipitation.
Small changes, he said, “can cause lots of feedback.”
For the U.S., he said, warming trends will likely cause worse droughts, like the one currently threatening Georgia’s north, and a population shift northward.
Michael McCracken, CEO of the Ottawa-based economic research firm Informetrica Ltd., said “no one knows” what will happen.
He said some forecasters expect much colder winters and much hotter summers, which will create adjustment problems across Canada. Such changes would also bring “social” costs like building seawalls around low-lying cities or moving their populations, and “individual” costs such as higher prices and taxes.
The problem, he said, is that world weather changes “are running ahead of the models,” so “the worry factor is high and growing.”
Stephen Leeb, New York-based investment analyst and editor of the Complete Investor newsletter, said that society has developed according to a fairly steady climate pattern and that change will not come easily if there is a dramatic shift.
Comparing the world to a city that has developed with people on the periphery and agriculture in the middle, if the inside becomes less productive for farming and the outskirts more productive, a theo- retical shift is possible, but, he asked, “What do you do with all the buildings?”
According to Mr. Leeb, any dramatic climate change will not likely occur as a catastrophic shift in annual weather patterns but in upand-down trends, with several years of warming followed by a sudden surge in repetitive cold weather.
The real question, Mr. Leeb said, is energy and whether Americans will find a solution to oil overuse and foreign dependency or take the consequences in terms of the environment and the economy if supplies run short and a fossil-fuel-dependent economy is left out in the heat and the cold.