Climate Wars, the latest book from Gwynne Dyer, is what is politely termed in certain environmental book review circles as a “slit your wrist special.”
Very roughly it examines the next few decades of what climate change means from a political and military standpoint.
The prospects are, as no doubt the author would state in his droll written style were he writing this particular newspaper column, not good.
Dyer did not do the analysis himself.
Rather, he presents what some of the major military general staffs around the world have been theorizing about the impacts of climate change.
There are also interviews with leading scientists on where they see the impacts of climate change leading humanity in the short term.
In other words, there is not much in the volume about the ecosystems that the planet is going to lose over the next few decades.
Instead it concentrates on the societal orders that are going to break down along with the countries and governments associated with them.
The book states from the start that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are changing the planetary climate.
To all those climate-change skeptics out there, it is sad to say you were wrong.
This is very unfortunate for all of us because addressing climate change is a political, technological, economic and environmental horror show.
If the skeptics were right the major armies of the world would not be dreaming up nightmare military scenarios.
This is where they examine having to go to war with their neighbours either to keep their populations out or to grab basic resources such as water.
To enliven the book each major section begins with possible scenarios on what the countries of the world will be doing to each other, and their own citizens, a few decades from now.
While only briefly touched upon in the book, it is possible that in a few decades all Canadians might become very thankful that we live next to the major military power on the planet.
Or we might curse that fact when the United States realizes how much water Canada has.
Climate Wars notes that climate change is happening a lot faster than expected.
Not only that, but a lot of people are not aware of this.
This is due to a lot of scientific studies being based on out of date data.
It takes time to have any report checked for errors and to have it peer reviewed.
This is the nature of the scientific review process.
For example, a 2007 publicly released report will probably only have data from 2005.
Unfortunately, the data from 2007 regarding a lot of environmental indicators from glacial retreat to sea-ice cover to permafrost melt is a lot more severe than the 2005 data.
By the time the 2007 data is compiled, reported upon, scientifically reviewed, and most importantly of all, accepted by politicians it too will be out of date.
The new data will show an even worse picture, but it will take a few years to issue the new reports.
Bottom line: whatever impacts the average citizen thinks climate change is going to do in the future is based on outdated knowledge.
Things are happening quicker with climate change than expected. And none of them are positive.
To his credit, Dyer does offer some solutions to dealing with climate change.
The solutions are not for the faint of heart, though.
Humanity has to decarbonize its economy immediately.
The planet is currently at about 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Thanks to all the natural gas, oil and coal humanity is burning it goes up about two parts per million per year.
Most, but not all, scientists think 450 parts per million is the upper limit that is acceptable, but even then the average temperature will go up two degrees.
And the temperature increases will be much higher in the polar regions.
A two-degree temperature increase is going to play havoc with weather systems, with agriculture growing patterns and with permafrost.
Ideally, 350 parts per million would be safe.
This means humanity not only has to stop putting its current two parts per million into the atmosphere but has to actually figure out a practical way to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
The 350 parts per million is a long term target, but it would hopefully keep Earth’s temperature in the range that has in the past allowed humanity to prosper.
Of course, the scientists could be wrong and it might already be too late. But one has to live in hope.
There might not be time for carbon-intensity programs, nor for seeing if industrial carbon-sequestration initiatives will work.
These initiatives will either continue to spout more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or they are so experimental there is grave doubt as to their practicality.
Neither will contribute to decarbonizing the power sources where humans get most of their power, their heat and their transportation from.
There is no easy way out apart from weaning ourselves almost completely off oil, coal and natural gas.
If humans want to continue to live in a high energy using civilization that mean a lot more dams, a lot more nuclear power plants, and a different standard of living for those of us currently living in high energy use countries such as Canada.
As can be imagined, such a concept will probably not go over well in jurisdictions that depend on fossil fuel extraction for their economic livelihood.
Other solutions, although that is perhaps an inappropriate term, involves geo-engineering methods.
These could include spraying sulphur into the atmosphere or seeding the ocean with iron filings.
The first would reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere, the second might cause massive algae blooms in the oceans that would absorb lots of carbon.
The problem is that they might not work, or they might work but have rather nasty side effects, or they might not work and they might still have catastrophic side effects.
As Dyer points out, quoting the former American secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, there are “unknown unknowns.”
Climate Wars is available at better book stores everywhere.
When purchasing a copy, consider buying two and giving the second one to a politician.
It is time for all of us to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.