Climate Control a Means to Prevent Climate Wars?

Monday, 23. March 2009     0 comment(s)
Alexandru Luta
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme
‘Climate Wars’, written by Gwynne Dyer, a reservist of the British, Canadian and US navies, a holder of a Ph.D. in war studies from the University of London, and author of a plethora of books on the Middle East conflict, proves that climate alarmism has finally reached the mainstream. Mr Dyer presents a simple thesis: scientists and top military officers agree that global warming will have brutal consequences for global security, and not enough is being done to avert these threats.

According to Dyer, the 21st century will be peppered with internal and external conflicts over water and arable land that will affect every region of the globe. Food production worldwide is due to collapse, leaving societies armed with modern weaponry, some of it nuclear, with unsustainably large populations to feed. Internal and external conflicts over water and arable land erupt, and countries become less and less squeamish about the use of violence in keeping unprecedented numbers of refugees at bay.

Mr Dyer draws a number of worrying scenarios:
  • The water-sharing treaty between India and Pakistan that even today is viewed as imperfect adds another facet to the pernicious conflict between the two South Asian states, escalating into a runaway nuclear exchange that kills millions.
  • Armed conflict erupts between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic, as peasants fleeing the desertification of wide swathes of China seek to move north into newly arable yet thinly-populated Siberia. Nuclear escalation is prevented only due to the collapse of the Beijing government and the emergence of smaller political entities ruled over by warlords.
  • Mexican and Central American refugees cannot move north either, as the United States loses its squeamishness in stemming illegal Latin American migration and erects an automated and weaponized fence along its southern border. The US consequently enters a new domestic Race War, this time pitting those of European ancestry who feel swamped and outnumbered against an incensed Latino population who feels snubbed and mistreated.
  • Meanwhile in the Arctic a new “Colder War” is brewing over negligible amounts of gas and oil. The fossil fuel industry maintains its strangle hold on major economies and the new emissions serve only to further boost global warming.
The above scenarios are eminently preventable – given enough political will. However, Mr Dyer is intensely critical of the pace and scale of current climate negotiations. Even the most ambitious emissions reductions targets currently up for negotiations aim at stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentration at 450 parts per million (ppm). Mr Dyer deems this insufficient. Citing geological evidence, he argues that CO2 concentration exceeding 350 ppm in the long term is likely to trigger runaway climate change that would simply be too massive for mankind to control.

Reducing atmospheric CO2 concentration is within our technological capabilities. Mr Dyer covers a range of conventional ways of reshaping society’s current energy mix, offering a level-headed and thorough review of wind, nuclear, tidal and geothermal energy, as well as 3rd generation biofuels. But he contends that simply weaning ourselves from fossil fuels may be insufficient. Breaking what he calls a climate change taboo, he raises the controversial point of using so-called geoengineering to complement the traditional policies and measures targeting global warming.

Geoengineering simply means planet-wide coordinated human action aimed at lowering the global temperature. Climate control, if you will. Examples include seeding the stratosphere with sulphur dioxide to increase the planet’s albedo, decreasing the amount of sunlight hitting the surface and diminishing the temperature. Alternatively, one could dump iron or very low concentration urea into the oceans to create controlled phytoplankton blooms to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Dead plankton would simply fall to the ocean floor, sequestering carbon there in the exact same process that oil forms. More phytoplankton incidentally also means more fish, which addresses the problem of food shortage.

These suggestions are of course controversial, but it is people such as Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen who came up with them in the first place. They reject arguments claiming that one should not pursue geoengineering because one ought not interfere with the climate by pointing out that humanity is in fact already doing that. All proponents also take pains to point out that geoengineering should never be thought of as a primary means of getting rid of global warming, which should always be the introduction of a sustainable energy mix based on renewables.

There are plenty of options on the table, but the need for speedy coordination remains great. As Mr Dyer pithily puts it, “every degree that the average global temperature rises will sabotage the global cooperation that is the only way to stop the temperature from continuing to climb”. Sobering reading for the flight to Copenhagen.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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