This 2009 CBC radio series in three fifty-five minute episodes is an adaptation of Dyer's 2008 book Climate Wars, on the geopolitics of climate change.
The premise is that firstly, over the course of history, we have always populated to the limits set by our regional environments; secondly, when an environment's limitations threaten the survival of a community, we have always raided other communities before we have starved – for people will do anything in preference to watching their children die.
But this book and podcast are not based on alarmist theory: it is founded on the well-established scientific evidence for climate change. The science is laid out, along with the reasons for climate change denial. Case studies are then made of regions at risk and likely scenarios of resulting political breakdown and conflict.
Over the next century, global warming will first destabilise regions that are resource-poor. Pakistan, for example, depends upon the Indus River, the world's largest contiguous river system, which first passes through India – which, by treaty, is entitled to not a proportion of this water, but a set volume. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has found that many Himalayan glaciers feeding such rivers are losing mass at a rate of 7% per year. Eventually, the failure of summer glacier melt will cause protracted droughts. As the flow diminishes, Pakistan's proportionate share of this water will decrease before India's share does – which will destabilise the region. But that's just Pakistan: in total, one to two billion people in the Asian and Subcontinent regions depend upon glacier-fed Himalayan rivers. Furthermore, grain production is now flat-lining – at a time when we are looking at world population peaking at another two billion people, around 2050.
Pressure from climate change will make mass migration inevitable; but the less environmentally-challenged migration destinations will be wanting to safeguard their viability, as crop yields shrink: India has already built a fence along the Bangladesh border. As a last resort, when faced with insurmountable environmental pressures, nations will prefer to risk war, over death. While our governments pay lip service to addressing the issue, military strategists in The Pentagon and around the world are assessing regional destabilisations that may arise from climate change.
Options for carbon-neutral energy are examined. Bio-deisel from marine algae looks promising, as it contains 30-60% oil and so is easily refined. Also promising is a report from MIT scientists that there is untapped geothermal energy, which could provide base load electricity in many regions which can find 200°C rocks 2km below ground level – hot enough to boil water. (Another potential energy source, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, which promises to be much safer and more practical than the prevalent Light Water Reactor, is unfortunately not mentioned.)
We are fortunate that this crisis has come about in an age when there are viable alternatives to fossil fuels; however, there remains a lack of political will to move away from them. The discussion of this inertia leaves one feeling pessimistic about crucial changes to our energy infrastructure being implemented in time to avoid tipping points – after which, getting the climate back on track will be much more difficult, or impossible.
Whatever we do now, we are committed to another forty years of warming, due to the time lag between atmospheric composition and temperature. It is very likely that we will be left with geo-engineering as a necessity, in order to buy time; this could also lead to conflict. Devising fair strategies for all countries to reduce fossil fuel use is essential: 'contraction and convergence' is discussed, a strategy by which the rich countries, who produce most of the greenhouse gasses, reduce emissions faster than the developing countries.
This is the most comprehensive summary of climate change and its implications that I've heard – reinforcing the conclusion that now is the crucial time for our governments to embrace carbon-neutral energy.
Only a groundswell of popular opinion will force the world's democracies to implement a transition away from fossil fuels: please encourage your friends to listen to this important series.
[Climate Wars podcast]
Climate Wars book reviews
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, NASA [Read more …]