This was a really interesting talk. Journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer is clearly a knowledgeable guy being able to speak ad lib for 90 minutes on the ramifications of what would happen in a world were we don’t make the changes necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. In his research for his book – Climate Wars – he talked to many senior military strategic figures who he tells us are taking the issues surrounding climate change, energy security, food and water shortages very seriously. He talks about what the world will look like if the warming of 3-4 degrees that many scientists actually believe will happen over the next 40-50 years. To put this in context when the world was 4-5 degrees cooler than now it was in the midst of an ice age where cities like London and New York were permanently covered in ice, it is a world so dramatically different to the one now as to be almost unrecognizable. As Gwynne describes, oceans don’t warm nearly as much the land will, so for every degree of average planet wide warming there will be a much higher impact on the land (depending where you are). The main impact of this will be in food production and to quote Gwynne, “people raid before they starve” (I like Rage Against the Machine “hungry people don’t stay hungry for long”) and this will have massive implications in terms of climate refugees, migration, political upheaval and potential conflict over water and food resources. This is what the US military is worried about.
Now I will classify Mr Dyer as a gloomer (although looking at the evidence it is very easy to be one) so I do take all the details of what he says with a pinch of salt. But this talk is not about if his prediction of the future is correct, but rather a what if. What if we don’t get our act together and make the changes to our entire energy and economic infrastructure to totally decarbonise our economy within the next 40 years. In that scenario what options will be left open to us? Mr Dyer contends that geo-engineering (through manipulation of the amount of solar radiation that would hit the earth’s surface) could be the most contentious geo-political issue in the future. The relative ease and low expense of injecting sulfur particles into the air would be fair cheaper and more effective than reducing emissions and so countries that could loose a lot, such as Bangladesh, may be compelled to act without global agreement even though the risks of such an action will be shared by everyone on the planet. The proverbial kid peeing in the swimming pool.
Definitely worth a watch as Gwynne has thought a lot about a future which most of us would not like to contemplate but one that increasingly looks more and more probable.
On a side note, I do feel that I need to point out to all the military strategists that if the US Military didn’t take half of the budget and instead diverted a significant chunk of those funds towards phasing out fossil fuels we could probably avoid the whole situation.