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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 10/27/2008

Freedman: Planning Your Global Warming Vacation

Whether it is by writing about melting Arctic sea ice or covering the scientific evidence pointing to increasingly intense hurricanes, reporting most climate change science news makes me feel like such a 'Debbie Downer.' I sometimes wonder if people will soon tune out (or have already tuned out) climate science news because it is too depressing, or if scientists' warnings that the most severe consequences of climate change can be averted will lead to positive developments.

This week the dark clouds above me briefly brightened when I saw an article in Forbes Traveler magazine that detailed how climate change will open up new travel destinations in the not-too-distant future.

Could our nearby beaches be year-round warm weather destinations by the end of the century? Keep reading. For the chilly outlook for the here and now, see our full forecast.

Now there's an interesting positive spin to put on the problem, I thought. After all, the climate of a location is a key determinant of whether or not it's an attractive spot for a vacation. For example, no one vacations in Siberia, because it's too cold, or in Death Valley, California, because it's too hot (and has an intimidating name). Instead, like Goldilocks, we like temperatures in the middle range, and most travel spots are 'just right.'

I'm skeptical of those who tend to look only at the bright side of climate change, considering that the vast majority of assessments written on the aggregate effects of global warming have concluded that the balance of impacts will be negative. When I saw the headline of the Forbes story, "Global Warming's Winners," I worried it would be another attempt to gloss over the myriad detrimental effects of climate change and instead portray it as a global redistribution of benefits.

I feared it might say something along the lines of, "You may not be able to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef anymore, since warmer water temperatures are killing the reef, but you can take up rock climbing and buy a timeshare in the newly-warm and inviting Yukon Territory!"

However, the article actually wound up depressing me more when I realized how many of my favorite vacation spots - such as Sanibel Island, Florida, and Vail, Colorado, are at risk from climate change.

The Forbes piece focused on locations that warming might transform from inaccessible into viable travel destinations by the year 2100. The Arctic topped their list, along with many other high latitude regions.

"Many previously undesirable locations farther from the equator, or at higher altitudes, could become much more inviting," author David Hirschman wrote. "The most obvious tourism beneficiary of global warming will be the Arctic, which is already experiencing dramatic climate change."

The story quoted two well-known climate scientists, Michael Mann of Penn State University and Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as saying that the Arctic will look increasingly attractive to tourists in the summertime. "Certainly," Holland said, "any island up in the Arctic circle area will become a lot more temperate."

According to the Forbes piece, more people may forgo a Caribbean cruise due to increasingly intense hurricanes in that region, and opt instead for a sail across the newly milder North Pole or even through the Northwest Passage, which was open for a brief period this past summer.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) most recent assessment report on climate change, released last year, supports some of the assertions in the article. The most well grounded scenario involves the warming Arctic, where tourism is already increasing as sea ice has rapidly melted towards an ice-free Arctic Ocean in future summers. A recent federal report included additional evidence of sharp declines in summertime sea ice coverage.

There also exists some evidence to back up Hirschman's more speculative assertions, including the notion that ski areas will shift far north into the Canadian Rockies and the prediction that beach destinations would move from the Caribbean and Southeast U.S. coast up into New England.

"Snowbirds may choose to winter instead in the Northeast, where Delaware, New Jersey and New York will offer temperate beachfronts year-round," the article states.

That last point didn't make much sense to me, considering that most snowbirds actually originate in the northeastern U.S. Wouldn't that mean that they would just stay home year round? That would decimate the buffet restaurant business in South Florida.

In summary, despite the poor choice of title, the Forbes article helps convey the difficulty involved with finding and focusing on only the positive impacts of climate change. The bottom line is that with climate change, there will likely be more losers than winners -- assuming it warms as much as (or more than) the best estimate projections (the IPCC projects a global average 3-7 degree Fahrenheit rise by 2100). But we may be able to vacation in some of the areas that come out ahead.

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 10/27/2008

Categories:  Freedman, Freedman

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