Wednesday, July 14, 2010

John R. MacArthur: Dyer’s Convincing Global-Warming Vision

Dyer’s Convincing Global-Warming Vision
by John R. MacArthur article link article link
July 14 2010 | The Providence Journal (Rhode Island) | CommonDreams

Until very recently, global warming never struck me as the great issue of the day. I avoided Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" because it seemed too much like homework, and when I finally forced myself to watch it at home on DVD, I fell asleep. Then, last November, after e-mails were leaked from England's University of East Anglia that made their scientist authors appear high-handed and disingenuous - which came to be known as "Climategate" - I figured maybe I didn't need to wake up.

Still, the scientific evidence strikes me as largely convincing, and the critics of global-warming projections, like George W. Bush, considerably less so. It's just that, as bad as they sounded, the awful environmental consequences of climate change always seemed less urgent than, say, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the growing gap between rich and poor.

However, a new book, "Climate Wars," by the London-based journalist Gwynne Dyer, has abruptly changed my mind. For if Dyer's warnings are correct, the greatest dangers from global warming are the ones that most concern me in the present: more destructive wars with higher casualties and an even greater widening of the divide between rich and poor, with the former able to buy protection and the latter unable to do so. Certainly, America's Wilsonian military ambitions (in the guise of a "war on terror") need to be reined in; and yes, Wall Street's "free-trade" war against giving decent-paying jobs to the American working class needs to be stopped. But if we don't get the climate under control, any one of Dyer's eight imagined scenarios might well dwarf these more immediate calamities.

I don't know the acceptable concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, now at 390 parts per million and heading up. I'll leave to such scientists as James Hansen whether the target for reduction should be 350 parts per million - to keep the polar ice caps from melting - or if 450 ppm is a realistic aim. And I'm not qualified to respond to such respectable climate-change critics as Alexander Cockburn who exhibit seemingly reasoned skepticism about the human contribution to global warming.

But if even half of what Dyer describes actually happens, we're in for social and economic Darwinism that will make the mindless U.S. military adventures in the Mideast look like humanitarian interventions and Wall Street's larceny look like a social-welfare program.

Consider the most optimistic of Dyer's dystopias, "Scenario Five: A Happy Tale." Looking back from the last quarter of the 21st Century, we learn that in 2013 a storm surge overwhelmed the Nile Delta, leaving 10 million people homeless; that in 2015 a terrible heat wave killed 75,000 Midwestern Americans; and that in 2016 devastating floods occurred in the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Brahmaputra river valleys. Happily, these catastrophes provoked a largely rational response from humankind, but there were painful side-effects. Since oil was rapidly replaced by other sources of energy that didn't add CO{-2} to the atmosphere, demand for petroleum fell steeply and bloody revolutions ensued in such oil-exporting countries as Nigeria and Iran, where only the rich and connected continued to prosper.

Still, there was good news: When Israel flattened Iran in 2021 in a pre-emptive strike (in the process losing Haifa), nuclear war didn't spread because nobody cared about Mideast oil anymore.

Despite the successful effort to reverse the growth of CO{-2} in the atmosphere, however, it was already too late to prevent more ecological disasters. Because so much tropical rainforest had been destroyed; because so much Arctic sea ice had melted; and because higher summer temperatures had melted the permafrost in Siberia and Alaska, leading to huge releases of methane and CO{-2}, semi-permanent drought had ruined agriculture in Mexico and Central America, killer cyclones repeatedly hit Bangladesh, and low-lying islands had to evacuate their entire populations to escape rising sea levels.

Unlike Al Gore (whose steadfast support of "free trade" has helped drive manufacturing farther from its biggest markets, thus wasting more fuel in shipping), Dyer is not hypocritical: By 2075, he writes somewhat ironically, it could be said that "this generation has done its job" and "saved civilization."

If readers find "A Happy Tale" depressing, I encourage them to delve into Dyer's other scenarios in which "this generation" doesn't do its job. "People always raid before they starve," he notes, but "raiding" doesn't guarantee you'll get food, water, or work. On this point, Americans should pay special attention to Scenario 3: United States, 2029.

In the good old days, at the beginning of the 21st Century, "only a couple of million Mexicans and Central Americans tried to cross into the United States each year, and American agribusiness needed at least half of them to make it through in order to replenish the supply of cheap illegal labor that made the farms profitable." As Dyer explains, this "was all done with a nod and a wink" by Congress colluding with business while making a show of trying to halt the flow. But by 2029, with their crops drying up, tens of millions of Latinos were leaving their land and a million a month were trying to get into the U.S., half of whom were making it through.

With border states' social services overwhelmed, the U.S. public demanded action and immigration control finally got serious. Mines were laid in a moat dug between new border fences, nearly 10 feet high and topped with razor wire and automated machine-guns. There "were very ugly incidents early on when groups of would-be immigrants tried to cross the completed sections of the ‘Big Fence' and were practically wiped out by the automated weapons and mines." But the new system worked, and "old-style" illegal entry virtually came to an end.

Sounds preposterous? Not when you observe Arizona's current political climate and not when you learn that India is already building an eight-foot fence along its entire border with Bangladesh to protect itself from a massive influx of refugees from global warming.

Dyer and the scientists he interviews say it's not too late to stave off mass starvation and resource wars. Geo-engineering the atmosphere to reflect more of the sun's heat back into outer space seems to offer some promise. But if we don't reduce population and consumption and don't switch to solar, wind and geo-thermal energy, and if we don't start building pump-storage electrical generators and ban coal-burning plants, "then," as Dyer says, "we really are screwed." I don't think Al Gore could say it any better, or in fewer words.

© 2010 The Providence Journal

John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine. Among other books, he is the author of Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War.

The Providence Journal home page
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Climate Wars
Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly

Civil war in China and the collapse of the European Union by 2045; nuclear strikes between India and Pakistan in 2036; people being blown up by land mines and machine-gunned by automatic weapons at a sealed U.S./Mexican border in 2029—these are just some of the terrifying climate change scenarios forecast by journalist and geopolitical analyst Dyer (The Mess They Made). His apocalyptic predictions are drawn from unimpeachable sources: climate experts like NASA scientist James Hanson and Angela Merkel's climate change adviser, Dr. Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; military and political sources including former CIA head James Woolsey. Even Dyer's most optimistic scenario is barely cause for celebration: humanity manages to curb global warming enough to save itself, but only after several million deaths and countless disasters. The multitude of sources and the political perspective on global warming make the book scarier and more convincing than the usual predictions limited to climate and weather. Environmentalists will likely be horrified and even more depressed than they are already, but we can hope that Dyer's sources are impressive enough to convince policy makers to take serious action. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Terrifying is just one of the words to leap off the page." --Bookseller

"Gwynne Dyer is one of the few who are both courageous enough to tell the unvarnished truth, and have the background to understand, not misrepresent the inputs. This book does a superb job of detailing the emerging realities of Climate/Energy. These realities are not pretty." --Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA

"This is a truly important and timely book. Gwynne Dyer has made the best and most plausible set of guesses I have yet seen about the human consequences of climate change, of how drought and heat may ignite wars, even nuclear wars, around the globe." --James Lovelock, award-winning scientist, inventor, and originator of the "Gaia" hypothesis

"The current debate on climate change is mostly on its future effects, but few are brave enough to work out what they might be. Here is a lively, alarming and even entertaining attempt to look ahead. Water and war have always been associated. We need hope as well as good sense in looking at the future. Here it is." --Sir Crispin Tickell, former Chairman of both the Board of the Climate Institute of Washington DC and the International Institute for Environment and Development

"Anyone still complacent about climate change will find Climate Wars instructive and disturbing. These articulate insights into climate geopolitics by Gwynne Dyer are an important tool for understanding why the climate challenge is big, hard, and vital to human survival -- yet soluble if we pay attention now." --Amory B. Lovins, Time magazine's Hero of the Environment, author of Capitalism as if the World Matters, and Chairman & Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute

Product Description

Dwindling resources. Massive population shifts. Natural disasters. Spreading epidemics. Drought. Rising sea levels. Plummeting agricultural yields. Crashing economies. Political extremism. These are some of the expected consequences of runaway climate change in the decades ahead, and any of them could tip the world towards conflict. Prescient, unflinching, and based on exhaustive research and interviews, Climate Wars promises to be one of the most important books of the coming years.

About the Author

Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, author, broadcaster, and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years. Dyer has served in the Canadian, British, and American navies. He holds a PhD in war studies from the University of London, has taught at Sandhurst, and has served on the Board of Governors of Canada's Royal Military College. His twice-weekly column on international affairs is published by 175 newspapers in 45 countries, and is translated into more than a dozen languages. He is the author of several books, including War, Future: Tense, and The Mess They Made. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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