Monday, 3 January 2011

Review: Climate Wars

Most books on climate change focus on either climate science or the policies needed to avoid catastrophic change. Most, therefore, are written by optimists - by people who think that governments will behave better once people understand more.

Well here's one that isn't:
Climate wars: The fight for survival as the world overheats
By Gwynne Dyer. Published by One World.
This focuses on the social, political and military consequences of the change. More importantly, it’s written by a pessimist. Where most commentators say ‘I hope’ or ‘we ought’ Dyer says either ‘we probably won’t’ or ‘what if we don’t?’ Where most concentrate on how we can avoid catastrophe Dyer focuses on what catastrophic climate change might be like and how the nations are likely to respond to it. His inspiration is similar to mine in my scenario planning but his political analysis is much deeper.

Let me be clear. Dyer has interviewed a lot of influential people. He has understood the science and the politics of Kyoto and Copenhagen. Based on this he believes that we won’t get an effective climate change treaty in the foreseeable future and that greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise for a decade or more. His judgments are all too plausible. Indeed, I think them much more likely than not.

He predicts that climate change will produce food and water shortages and that countries will raid their neighbours rather than see their people starve (and their political power decline). Rich countries will, of course, simply close their borders to immigrants.

Starting from these judgments he has created eight scenarios for various regions and dates between 2019 and 2055. These scenarios show how shortages of food and water might play out in a world already divided by money, power, religion and traditional rivalries. They discuss the tensions and wars that might follow.

These are not forecasts – they are more like science fiction stories – stories driven by climate change. None of them are pleasant and some are very frightening - nuclear war between India and Pakistan anyone?

But despite these scenarios Dyer does not despair. If we don't start to get greenhouse gas levels down by 2016 then we'll just have to find something additional to insulation, decarbonisation of power generation, etc., to buy us a decade or two. We'll need to use geo-engineering for that - despite the risks.

Every green optimist should read this book. They should ask themselves: What will we do if we don't get an effective successor to Kyoto?

[A shorter version of this review was published in Green World.]