Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chinese debate positive side of global warming

Chinese debate positive side of global warming
'Dynasties were more prosperous' when weather was warm

Steph Davidson, National Post
Published: Friday, December 18, 2009

Academics in China are debating whether global warming could benefit rather than harm the country, with some historical climatologists believing the country did better during warmer periods.

They point to studies that show a drop in temperature and desertification accelerated the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

"With the cold temperatures there was a drought in Mongolia. Since people were eating livestock, which fed on the grasslands, they needed to go south," Xie Zhenghui of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' International Center for Climate & Environmental Sciences told the Los Angeles Times.

"When there was warmer weather and more rain, the Mongols didn't need to attack the south."

Elizabeth VanderVen, a history professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said although global warming might not be a good thing overall for China, warmer weather could benefit certain crops. "The only exception would be that warmer weather is good for crops like rice and soybeans.

"During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), local farmers were concerned about occasional out-of-season cold snaps in the south as they ruined rice crops or arrested the development of young rice shoots."

Wheat, which is mainly consumed in northern China, was a crop that would suffer if temperatures rose, she said.

Scientists also cited progress during warmer periods as an indication China could prosper if the planet gets warmer.

"Historically, when the temperatures were warmer, the dynasties were more prosperous," Ms. Xie said.

"That led some people to theorize that global warming might be good for China."

However, she agreed not everyone would reap the benefits.

"Warming might be good for agriculture in the north and west, but it would be a disaster for the coastal cities and for the south where Chinese industry is located," she said.

Yunxiang Gao, a history professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, said she has seen the effects of global warming first-hand.

"I am from Inner Mongolia, right outside the Great Wall. I know global warming turned the grassland and farmland in my hometown into desert and the creek and ponds in my village totally disappeared about a decade ago," she said.

Once-crowded villages have been transformed into "ghost towns" because of the lack of rain and snow. Farmers have been driven into cities, where it is difficult for them to make a living.

Cities such as Beijing, Nanjing and Xian are plagued by smog because they were built in basins surrounded by mountains, and the warm dry weather keeps the smog around.

"It is true that Chinese civilization peaked during periods of warm weather, but I don't think now that global warming will help either Chinese agriculture or development," said Wang Yi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Policy & Management.

He added he once believed climate change could be beneficial for China, but has since changed his mind, and said he isn't alone.

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