Global Warming, Its Effect on the Economy and You

How Much Difference a Degree of Global Warming Makes

global Temperatures
••• Simulation of maximum temperatures on July 9 from American (GFS) weather model at two meters above the ground.

 Image by Climate Reanalyzer (, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA.

Global warming is the increase in average temperatures of the world's atmosphere and oceans. The warmest 30-year period in the Northern Hemisphere over the last 1,400 years was between 1983 and 2012. Each of the past 16 years was among the warmest on record. 

How much has it warmed? Since the 1880s, the earth’s average temperature has risen 2.1 Fahrenheit. That's 1.2 degrees Celsius. For the last 45 years, the Earth's average temperature rose 0.17 C, or around 0.3 F per decade. That's twice as fast as the average 0.07 C per decade increase that occurred during the entire period of recorded observations, from 1880 to 2015. Warming is occurring at a faster rate than at any other time in the Earth's history.

Almost three-fourths of Americans believe global warming is real. Almost two-thirds or 64 percent believe it is affecting U.S. weather. Almost half, 45 percent, believe it poses a serious threat in their lifetime. More than one in five are very worried about global warming. Fifty-four percent of Americans believe global warming is caused by humans. Only a third believe it is from natural causes. 

Global warming cost the U.S. government more than $350 billion between 2007 and 2017. It will cost $112 billion per year in the future, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Hurricanes in the past 16 years cost the economy $700 billion.

In the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, nations agreed to keep temperatures from reaching an increase of 2 C. They ideally would like to keep the increase below 1.5 C.

Impact of Current 1.2 C Warming

The 1.2 C increase has already heated Earth to record levels. In July, 2018, heat waves set new temperature records all over the world. Death Valley had the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. The average temperature was 108 F. Caribou, Maine, reported that July was its warmest month ever. So did 22 counties and cities in China. Several cities reached new highs, including Los Angeles at 111 F, Amsterdam at 94.6 F, and London at 95 F. Climate scientists were shocked by the severity and number of these extreme events.

Forests throughout the United States have been suffering for years. A shorter winter means that many pests, such as the pine bark beetle, are not dying off in the winter. As a result, they are killing millions of trees. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that 100,000 beetle-infested trees fall daily. This level of damage has never before been seen in U.S. recorded history.

Warmer summers have led to an increase in wildfires. The dead trees have increased the intensity of these fires. It destroys timber and is dangerous to people, property, and wildlife. 

Global warming has expanded the dry western Plains region 140 miles eastward. The "100th meridian" runs north to south through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. It separates the humid East from the dry West. It's now at the 98th meridian. As a result, farmers used to growing corn will have to switch to hardier wheat. Droughts in the Midwest killed off corn crops, raising the price of beef. The California drought increased wildfires and increased the cost of nuts and fruits.

Shorter winters mean that disease-carrying pests have a lower die-off rate. As a result, places that were once immune to West Nile virus, malaria, and even bubonic plague are seeing breakouts. 

A longer growing season is not always good for crops. Early springs are often accompanied by seasonal frost. It kills buds and destroys the plant's productivity for the season. Even though the temperatures are warmer for longer, levels of sunshine don't change. Those levels are more important to thriving plants than is the temperature. Many plants need the longer winter to rest and restore their vitality. They need cooling fall temperatures to signal them to go into dormancy. Without that, they are exposed to cold temperatures when they do arrive.


Heat-related deaths are one of the worst weather-related outcomes, killing 650 Americans each year. Global warming is hardest on city dwellers due to the urban heat island effect. Concrete and asphalt have made daytime temperatures 5 F hotter and nighttime temperatures 22 degrees hotter.

More frequent and stronger natural disasters create more infectious diseases. The World Health Organization reported higher rates of hepatitis C, SARS, and hantavirus. Sufferers came in contact with contaminated water from flooding sewage systems during floods.

Temperatures haven't risen evenly. Those in colder zones are rising even faster. In the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed by 1.7 C. That's twice as fast as the rest of the United States. As a result, the amount of sea ice in winter fell to a record low in 2016. In February 2017, temperatures at the North Pole rose 45 degrees above normal. The Bering Strait was ice-free. The absence of sea ice contributes to further warming as the dark water absorbs the sun's radiation. This "Arctic Amplification" accelerates global warming elsewhere.

In Antarctica, glaciers have been losing their mass at an "unusually rapid" rate. Satellite pictures taken between 1992 and 1996 showed that the Pine Island Glacier lost thickness at a rate of 1.6 meters per year. That’s 42 times faster than 3.8 centimeters annual loss over the last 4,700 years. A 2018 NASA study confirmed that the continent lost a net 183 gigatons of ice in 2015. That's 36 gigatons more than it lost in 2008. Each year Antarctica loses ice at a faster clip. That has led to rising sea levels and flooding of coastal cities.

The warming Arctic increases the frequency of blizzards in the northeast United States and Europe. When the Arctic suddenly warms, it splits the polar vortex. That's a zone of cold air that circle the Arctic at high altitudes. When it splits, that cold Arctic air descends upon New England and Europe. Warmer ocean temperatures, also caused by global warming, adds moisture to the air. The result is a bomb cyclone that dumps massive amounts of snow.

As the oceans warm, they hold less oxygen. Fish avoid some sections of the ocean because they are suffocating. These "dead zones" have expanded by 4.5 million square kilometers since the 1950s. As a result, many popular species of fish stay near the oxygen-rich surface. 

Warmer temperatures also make ocean heat spikes more frequent. As a result, coral bleaching has increased nearly fivefold in the past 40 years. In the early 1980s, bleaching only occurred every 25 to 30 years. By 2016, bleaching occurred once every 5.9 years. More than half of 100 reefs studied lost more than 30 percent of their corals in 2015 or 2016. As a result, 50 percent of the world's coral reefs are dead.

High water temperatures toxify the algae living in coral. The coral polyps expel the algae, so that only the white framework remains. Coral can tolerate intermittent bleaching, but recurrent events will kill it.

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates the commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is more than $100 million. Local economies also receives billions from tourists who like to visit reefs. Coral reefs support the life cycle of over 25 percent of all marine species. More than 500 million people depend on them for food or fishing income. Coral also protect shorelines from unchecked erosion.

Impact of a 2.0 C Warming

If the world keeps emitting greenhouse gases at the current rate, temperatures will reach the 2 C goal in 2037. There will be major changes. The Arctic would warm by 6 C. The U.S. Southwest would warm by 5.5 C. It would create near-permanent "superdroughts."

At that temperature, 98 percent of coral reefs would die off. It would cost the global economy $1 trillion each year. The reefs support 500 million people in 50 nations.

Fifty million asthma and allergy sufferers would pay for increased health care costs. Higher levels of greenhouse gases encourage plants to produce more pollen. It's creating "super pollen" that's larger and more allergenic. Longer summers have lengthened the allergy season. In some sections of the country, the pollen season increased by 25 days between 1995 and 2015. Scientists predict that pollen counts will double by 2040. As a result, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson estimated that 1,000 people would die from air pollution for every 1 C rise in global temperatures.


The colder areas of the U.S. farm belt would benefit from a longer growing season. Parts of Alaska could become open to new development. The same goes for Scandinavian countries. Already, the growing season in Greenland is two weeks longer than in the 1970s. Washington D.C. has an earlier tourist season, as the cherry trees have started blossoming a week earlier than 20 years ago. Russia and Canada might become the biggest benefactors because they have the largest frozen land masses. That could significantly change the balance of power.

On the other hand, thawing of the Arctic permafrost would accelerate. Only 15 percent of Alaska is perma-frost free. As it melts, waterlogged ground becomes soft and collapses. Buildings and roads slump, and vehicles bog down in mud. As the permafrost thaws, it also releases centuries of frozen greenhouse gases. It could cause a chain reaction of increased heating and thawing that would be unstoppable. It also contains twice as much toxic mercury as the rest of all soils, atmosphere, and ocean combined.

Shippers would benefit from the melting ice cap. New northern channels will create cheaper shipping costs and a shorter route. Russia will use the faster Arctic route to export liquefied natural gas from northwestern Siberia to China. A trial tip took 19 days, half the time of the conventional route through the Suez Canal. President Putin forecast that Russia plans to ship 80 million tons along that route by 2025.

Warmer oceans could shift the North Atlantic current away from Europe. Most of Europe is north of the state of Maine. Without the warm waters of the current, Europe would become as cold as Newfoundland.

Impact of 2.5 C and 3.0 C Increase

In 1975, Professor William Nordhaus first warned about the economic impact of global warming. He predicted that doubling carbon dioxide would increase temperatures by 2 C. Temperatures above that level risk hitting a tipping point. A large portion of the polar ice caps would melt, increasing sea levels. This would create a feedback loop that could raise temperature 5 C in the long-term. Instead of heeding Professor Nordhaus's warning, man has allowed temperature increases to accelerate. 

In May, 2018, Stanford University scientists calculated how much global warming would cost the global economy. If the world's nations adhered to the Paris Climate Agreement, and temperatures only rose 2.5 percent, then global gross domestic product would fall 15 percent.

If temperatures rose to 3 C, global GDP would fall 25 percent. If nothing is done, temperatures will rise by 4 C by 2100. Global GDP would decline by more than 30 percent from 2010 levels. That's worse than the Great Depression, where global trade fell 25 percent. The only difference is that it would be permanent.

Impact of a 4 C Increase

In 2014, the World Bank predicted that temperatures will increase by 4 C if nothing is done. At that temperature, all the ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica would melt. Sea levels would rise 33 feet.

In 2017, the U.S. National Climate Assessment echoed the World Bank's warning. Average temperatures would increase up to 10 F by 2100. That could create 131 degree heat waves in some sections of the United States.

The Arctic would see an average temperature increase of 18 F. That would increase sea levels by 8 feet, flooding every major coastal city. Once sea levels rise 10 feet, it would flood 12.3 million people.

Seas would continue to rise by one foot per decade. That's too fast to allow humans to build anew. The hot temperatures would dry out the land. As a result, California and the Great Plains would experience a new, permanent Dust Bowl.

Here's What Happened the Last Time the Earth Warmed Quickly

The last time the planet was this warm was 11,000 years ago. Back then, the warming was caused by shifts in the earth's orbit. It soon led to the Little Ice Age. This time, temperatures are caused by the greenhouse effect. The amount of greenhouses gases already in the atmosphere means that temperatures will continue to get warmer.

The closest comparison is the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum. It was the era between the end of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals. Over 5,000 years, between 4 trillion to 7 trillion tons of carbon was released. Humans have released the same levels of carbon over hundreds, not thousands, of years.

As the planet warmed, it triggered a chain reaction. It released reservoirs of solid methane buried in seafloor sediments. Wildfires released more carbon dioxide. It increased global temperatures by at least 41 F. Large animals went extinct and smaller ones thrived. The horse evolved into a smaller version of itself. It went from the size of a large dog to a small house cat. It took more than 150,000 years for the carbon dioxide levels to recede to more normal levels.

How Global Warming Contributed to Trump's Victory

An article in "Der Spiegel," a German newspaper, observed how global warming might impact U.S. elections. In 2007, the Nobel Committee awarded Al Gore a Peace Prize to send a signal to U.S. policy makers. It warned the United States to live within its means. 

But the Gore factor is having its most powerful effect in a sphere beyond partisan politics, penetrating deep into the insecure American middle class. Its way of life – and this is the real message behind the Nobel Committee's decision – is no longer sustainable.


The newspaper predicted that there would be more green party candidates as a result. At first, it seemed to work. In 2007, the Department of Energy invested $1 billion to spur the biofuels industry to reduce greenhouse gases. Over 100 biofuel factories produced 6.4 billion gallons of ethanol using 18 million acres of corn. This was 20 percent of total U.S. corn production, which drove corn prices to a record $4 per bushel. Since most of corn production is used to feed livestock, this caused food prices to increase four percent.

But 10 years later, America's "insecure middle class" rebelled against the "Gore factor." In 2016, it elected Donald Trump to the presidency.

On June 1, 2017, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. His 2018 budget slashed funding for climate change research. It cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 31 percent. He ordered the EPA administrator to reverse standards on tailpipe emissions. 

Trump and some other Republicans believe sustainable practices will hinder economic growth. But even conservative Newt Gingrich disagreed in his book "A Contract with the Earth." He argued that environmental sustainability and economic prosperity are far from mutually exclusive. He said, "if environmental quality declines enough, the economy won’t be able to function at all.”

What You Can Do

If you want to support efforts to reduce global warming, there are some simple steps you can take today. Cut your heating bill by living in a small house and ensuring it has good insulation. Buy Energy Star home appliances. Eat less meat. Purchase more local products to cut down on emissions from shipping. Turn off lights and unplug appliances when not in use. 

The way you drive and maintain your car can significantly improve mileage. Keep the tires inflated, change the air filter, accelerate slowly after a stop, and drive under 60 miles per hour. That will reduce your emission of greenhouse gases. The April 9, 2007, article in the economist, "Mean Machine," offers more great tips for being an environmentally aware car owner.

You can also become carbon neutral. The United Nations program Climate Neutral Now allows you to offset all the carbon you've emitted by purchasing credits. It helps you calculate your specific carbon emission, or you can just use an average. These credits fund green initiatives throughout the world. You can select the specific project that interests you.

If you want to get more ambitious, you can sue the government. On April 9, 2018, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that government must create a plan to combat climate change. The plan must also address deforestation in the Amazon. The Supreme Court referred to the Amazon as an “entity subject of rights.” It gives the river the same rights as a human being. An international human rights organization, Dejusticia, sued the Colombian government for its lack of response to climate change and the deforestation of the Amazon.