Global warming. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Global warming. Picture: THINKSTOCK

IN HIS victory speech, US President Barack Obama said: "We want our children to live in an America … that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Someone should have told him that neither the US nor any other country is seriously threatened by global warming.

In a warmer world, less energy would be needed for heating and transportation, resulting in less air, land and water pollution. Snow and ice that seriously hamper movement and increase the costs of land and water shipping are reduced. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure maintenance costs drop as there would be less freeze/thaw and ice damage. Clothing expenses drop in a warmer world and construction costs plummet as less insulation is required in all buildings.

The benefits of warming are especially prominent in agriculture. Longer frost-free periods will extend growing seasons as well as the extent of agriculture in middle-and high-latitude regions. More and greater varieties of food are then possible in areas that are currently agriculturally marginal. A warmer world is a wetter world with less, not more, drought, as evaporation increases, putting more moisture into the atmosphere.

If the world warms significantly due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, an unlikely scenario, temperatures at high latitudes are forecast to rise the most, reducing the difference between arctic and tropical temperatures. Since this differential drives weather, we should see less extremes in weather, not more.

Far more people die due to excessive cold than due to excessive warmth. Cold weather is much harder on our bodies.

History demonstrates that warming has been good and cooling bad for civilisation. That is why geologists named past warm periods "optimums" and cold times "dark ages". It was during the warmest period since the end of the last ice age, the Holocene Optimum between 9,000 and 5,000 years ago, that the first civilisations flourished in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Other warm periods, climate optimums during Minoan, Roman and Medieval times, and of course, the modern warm period, have all resulted in increased food productivity, lower death rates and greater prosperity.

In contrast, cold periods have been rough on societies. The Dark Ages Cold Period from about 600-900AD was a time of great retreat of agriculture and depression of human activity. There were plagues and starvation in many regions and people had to migrate from farms in central Europe and Scandinavia.

The Little Ice Age (LIA) from about 1350 to 1850 was worse and there was great misery for people around the world. Alpine glaciers overran mountain villages in Europe and cold and wet weather killed millions of farm animals and ruined crops. With famine weakening the population, more than a third of Europeans died of bubonic plague. Later in the LIA, 1-million people died in Ireland and 1-million more left the country due to the potato famine caused by the cold weather.

We are the first generation to believe climatic warming is a bad thing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 Working Group 2 report on "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability" says "a focus on key vulnerabilities is meant to help policy makers and stakeholders assess the level of risk and design … response strategies".

It is impossible to do this without understanding the benefits of warming and the dangers of cooling. The experience of India, which has prospered while warming over the past 50 years, demonstrates how well humans, even those in hot climates, can adapt to warming. But, cooling is a killer, and, scientists increasingly say, a more probable event as well.

The earth is warmer when the sun is more active as indicated by sunspot count. Our planet is cooler when there are fewer sunspots. The current 11-year sunspot cycle, Cycle 24, is showing less spots than predicted and expectations are for lower numbers still in Cycle 25, expected to start in about 10 years. Not surprisingly, global temperatures have levelled and show signs of declining. By the mid to late 2020s, conditions comparable to the LIA are a distinct possibility.

We must forget about vainly trying to control the global climate and instead get ready for the destructive power of a cooling planet.

• Ball is a Victoria, British Columbia-based environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Harris is the executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition.