Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer

Read this book. It is important, accessible and a quick read.
While many books are about IF climate change is occurring and an examination of the science, Dyer accepts THAT climate change is happening due to human activity and then explores the geopolitical ramifications of increased warming in the coming decades. It is often only a rise of 2 degrees Celsius that Dyer examines and the even that small amount has large ramifications. Further, the book reminded me of the useful analogy of comparing the rise in temp to one’s body temperature instead of room temperature to have others greater understand the fine balance in which we find ourselves. Climate Wars presents fictional, but plausible, scenarios that are startling: A nuclear war between India and Pakistan over water, the U.S. fully closing its Southern border in 2029 and using automated machine guns and landmines to prevent crossings, Russia and China engaging in a huge regional conflict, mass immigration that would dissolve the EU, mass starvation, countries like Britain and Japan closing themselves off from the world with nuclear weapons, and not being able to import food at any price (because there just isn’t any to go around).
I do realize that he and the many others could be wrong, but if one has to make decisions based on the best available evidence and we are definitely in a situation where the costs of doing nothing exceed the costs of action, then we must act. Additionally, aside from a brief reference in the introduction to the possible prominence of artificial intelligence in the 2020s, Dyer does not discuss the greater technological revolution that may happen, even if only to dismiss it. This is a weakness as I am starting to believe that any book that attempts to predict the future must include technological advancement (and now climate change).

Dyer does discuss some of the science (biofuels, carbon capture… etc), provides a thoughtful discussion of geo-engineering possibilities and the moral hazard associated with them – if we believe technology can fix it, we won’t try as hard to reduce emissions. His coverage of how the breadbaskets of the world are vulnerable if the heating and evaporation of tropical waters changes was very informative, as was his discussion of the oceans becoming filled with, and then releasing hydrogen sulphide if currents don’t mix things up.
Dyer does present a dire future, which would be easier to dismiss if his discussion of why political action won’t be taken wasn’t so cogent (and stated with sadness). Yet, he is quick to remind, there is still time for us to figure this out if we start acting immediately with solutions and technologies that can already help reduce our carbon emissions.

So, do you plan to watch the world burn?

[More personally, I found this work of fact-based forecasting very useful, mainly because the issue of climate change had left my consciousness (as it seems to have done with the public). Previously, I have read books on climate change and environmental impacts, presented on papers about carbon taxation versus cap and trade systems, what Canada’s emission are and what it needs to do, the viability of hydrogen, the validity of nuclear power and biofuels and wind power, and even thought about mass immigration and starvation… and yet I feel this book really internalized the issue for me.
Sidestepping a longer discussion regarding what it means to know something (i.e., is initial comprehension sufficient? What about recall? And how long into the future? Perhaps the ability to teach another?) this book has created a greater ‘degree of knowing’ for me and reactivated my previous knowledge about climate change. I think the main reason was that his fictional scenarios very detailed compared to previous, vague hypothetical situations and that made the whole issue of climate change more real. Finally, the repetition of figures helped me retain the fact that the atmosphere has 387 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, it rises at 3 ppm each year, that we don’t want it going over 400 ppm and we really don’t want it going over 450 ppm (which is what the environmental community is using as its target).
Consequently, Climate Wars was a very worthwhile read.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good review. I've posted a link to it on my site Climate Wars ( ).

Crawford Kilian

4:29 PM  

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