No matter what one thinks should be done about global warming, the fact is, it’s happening. And it’s not all bad. In the Arctic, it is turning what has traditionally been an impassible body of water ringed by remote wilderness into something dramatically different: an emerging epicenter of industry and trade akin to the Mediterranean Sea. The region’s melting ice and thawing frontier are yielding access to troves of natural resources, including nearly a quarter of the world’s estimated undiscovered oil and gas and massive deposits of valuable minerals. Since summertime Arctic sea routes save thousands of miles during a journey between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic also stands to become a central passageway for global maritime transportation, just as it already is for aviation.
Given these economic facts, chances are that many of the region’s inhabitants are fervently saying: “melt, baby, melt.” The Arctic boom reminds us that global warming, like most every macro phenomenon, has good and bad effects. The pace of warming has slowed down in recent years and it’s uncertain what the long term effects of climate change will be. But even if we grant that some of the greens’ fears will be realized, there are still countervailing benefits to consider. It looks to us as if the affects of climate change are much more complex and harder to predict than green publicists claim; the earth’s climate system has surprised us before and is likely to surprise us again as the interactions and interrelations of different factors lead to unexpected changes in the world around us.Given that climate change is a mixture of curses and blessings, any policy addressing it is going to involve trade-offs. Slowing it down, for example, would hurt some, help others. It’s not clear why a cold, Arctic-reliant country like Russia whose economy is linked to the oil and gas trade would find a benefit in cooperating with efforts to stop climate change. It also appears that human activities like farming are better able to adjust to temperature variations than some pessimists would have us believe. Crops like soya, corn and wheat can be bred (or genetically modified) to grow in warmer and dryer conditions at a modest cost.Greens, many impelled by emotional overreactions or a deep inner belief that unfettered capitalism is a terrible thing, have tried to simplify the discussion about the earth’s changing climate into a morality play. They’ve overstated the evidence that favors worst-case scenarios, argued for top down, bureaucratic solutions that don’t work, and when critics object to these policies they lash out at their critics as ‘science deniers.’The Arctic melt shouldn’t be taken to show that climate change is nothing to be concerned about. Rather, it’s such a complex phenomenon with so many ramifications, that understanding what is happening around us is a major task, and we are still nowhere near a complete analysis of the changes taking place in the climate system.Meanwhile, read the whole thing for a balanced, sane understanding of the climate shifts currently happening. Fortunately, the piece in Foreign Affairs seems to be part of a broader trend in the media to acknowledge and examine the complexities surrounding this important issue. Zealots are rarely the best guides when it comes to difficult issues like climate change.[UPDATED VERSION][Image of iceberg off the coast of Greenland courtesy of Wikimedia]