Advantages and Disadvantages of Global Warming

Positive and Negative Effects of Global Warming to People and the Planet

Melting Horizons
Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images / Getty Images

The United Nations has been studying and working on combating climate change since the first Earth Summit in 1992. The UN Intergovernmental panel's fifth report, published in late 2014, reiterates that global warming, more precisely called climate change, is happening and will continue to happen for centuries. The report also states with 95 percent certainty that the activity of humans has been the primary cause of increasing temperatures over the previous few decades, up from 90 percent in a previous report.

First, we will look at the many disadvantages of global warming and then follow with a very small number of advantages. Some of the disadvantages can fall into multiple categories, as the systems of Earth are connected. A change in one area can have ripple effects as well.

Disadvantages: Ocean Warming, Extreme Weather

The ocean and weather are highly interconnected, as the water cycle is important to weather patterns in aspects such as humidity, air saturation with water, precipitation levels, and the like, so what affects the ocean affects weather. For instance:

  • A change in ocean circulation and its warmer temperature disrupts the world's normal weather patterns, bringing about more extreme weather and an increased frequency of severe and catastrophic storms, such as hurricanes. More severe storms lead to an increase in the occurrence of "hundred-year floods," property damage, and loss of life.  
  • A higher sea level leads to flooding of low-lying lands (and even loss of some of the world's islands) as well as deaths and disease from flooding.
  • The acidification of warming oceans leads to a loss of coral reefs, which protect shorelines from heavy waves, storms, and floods. Loss of these structures can lead to increased erosion and coastline property damage. They may cover only 1 percent of the ocean floor but provide habitat for 25 percent of the ocean's species.
  • Warming ocean waters means more melting of the globe's glaciers and ice sheets and smaller ice sheets forming each winter, which affects habitat of cold-climate animals and the Earth's reserves of freshwater (69 percent of the Earth's ice is locked in ice and glaciers, according to the USGS). 
  • Less sea ice, warmer water and increased acidity could be catastrophic for krill, which forms the base of the ocean's food web and feeds whales, seals, fish and penguins. The plight of polar bears because of the loss of Arctic ice is well known, but at the other end of the globe, a colony of 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica had only two chicks survive in 2017 because of the change in the climate there. A similar event had no chicks survive in 2013. Emperor penguin colonies are expected to decline as well due to loss of sea ice and rising temperatures.

Disadvantages: Land Desertification

As weather patterns are disrupted and droughts intensify in duration or frequency, that hits the agricultural sectors. Crops and grasslands don't grow well because of the lack of water, and then cattle don't get fed. Marginal lands are no longer useful. Farmers may be unable to feed their families or can lose their livelihoods. In addition: 

  • Deserts become drier, leading to increased desertification, resulting in border conflicts in already water-scarce areas.
  • Changes to agricultural production can lead to food shortages.
  • Starvation, malnutrition, and increased deaths are possible due to food and crop shortages.

Disadvantages: People's Health and Economic Effects

In addition to climate change affecting weather patterns and food production, which also affect people, climate change can put the hurt on people's pocketbooks (and economy of an area, on a larger scale) and health. To wit: 

  • Diseases increase. For example, if insects don't die off in an area because it no longer reaches the cold temperatures that it used to, diseases they carry can proliferate more easily, such as ticks carrying Lyme disease.
  • People from poorer, drier, hotter, or low-lying countries may emigrate to wealthier or higher-elevation locations seeking better (or nondeadly) conditions, causing tension among people who already live there.
  • As climates warm overall, people use more energy resources for cooling needs, air pollution rises, and deaths from heat waves increase.
  • Allergy and asthma rates go up due to pollution and the earlier and longer blooming of plants.
  • As insurers pay out more claims resulting from increasingly large weather disasters, people's insurance rates go up.
  • Cultural or heritage sites are destroyed faster due to increased extremes and acid rain.

Disadvantages: Nature Out of Balance

The environment around us is affected by climate change in a multitude of ways, because parts in an ecosystem normally have a balance; climate change is throwing nature is out of whack, in some locations more visibly than others. Effects include: 

  • Additional species of animals and plants are going extinct.
  • Loss of animal and plant habitats leads animals to move into other territories, putting stress and disrupting the ecosystems that are already established.
  • A change in climate of an area causes an imbalance in an ecosystem itself, because many behaviors of plants, insects, and animals depend on the temperature of an area. For example, the availability of food in spring (for example, a particular insect) may no longer coincide with when its predator's young are born, causing an an overabundance of that pest, leading to increased stress on the plants that the insect eats and less food for larger animals that also depend on that plant.
  • Pests such as viruses, fungi, or parasites that die off at a certain low temperature in an area no longer die off, which could lead to an increase in disease among plants and animals.  
  • Melting of permafrost leads to floods; greatly increased carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change; and the potential for ancient viruses to emerge into the environment. 
  • Rain that falls increases in acidity.
  • Earlier drying of forests leads to increased forest fires in size and intensity, leading to increased property damage for homes nearby. Loss of plants and trees on hillsides leaves them more vulnerable to erosion and landslides, leading to increased chance of property damage and loss of life.

Advantages of Global Warming Are a Bit of a Stretch

The purported advantages of global warming don't really compensate for the disruption and destruction brought about disadvantages, but they could include:

  • The Arctic, Antarctic, Siberia, and other frozen regions of the earth may experience more plant growth and milder climates.
  • The next ice age may be prevented from occurring.
  • The Northwest Passage through Canada's formerly icy north opens up to sea transportation.
  • It takes less energy to warm cold places.
  • Fewer deaths or injuries occur due to cold weather.
  • Longer growing seasons could mean increased agricultural production in some local areas.