In a well-written piece for the April, 2007 issue of The Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook looks at possible changes in the global distribution of money and power that Global Warming might bring.
For example, general warming will tend to make currently the currently frigid high latitudes (think Siberia and northern Canada) more temperate. Unfreezing the Siberian tundra might make available the largest chunk of pristine soil since the “discovery” of North America (an analogy that might make Canada’s northern native peoples think…). Russia wins big on this one.
A major impact would be that the rich (the industrial west owns most of the high-latitude land on the globe) get richer, reversing a trend toward more global economic equity. A second impact would be the mass migration of economic refugees northward.
Water impacts are harder to predict, but significant changes to the Gulf Stream in the north Atlantic might plunge Europe into a prolonged depression that could have disastrous effects on the global economy at large. Melting of the Arctic Ice Cap could finally make the fabled “Northwest Passage” a reality, shifting the locus of shipping centers from south to north.
Easterbrook’s conclusions are that we need to enact laws/regulations that incent the private markets to find and implement solutions, that the cost of preventing some of these potential problems is much, much less that the cost of fixing them later, and finally, for us Americans, the current world order has us at the top of the heap; therefore, any significant changes to that order are bound to be bad for us.