There Goes the Neighborhood: A Review of Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats by Gwynne Dyer

Posted: November 7, 2013 in Books, Climate Change, Reviews, Science
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Earlier this year I read and reviewed The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore. While Gore has been one of the great promoters of getting the issue of global warming and climate change into the public eye, he only spent about one sixth of this book looking at the climate, and the rest at other issues that will play a role in the planet’s near future. Here, in Climate Wars Gwynne Dyer focuses less on the direct effects of climate change on the planet, and more on its connotations for human society in general. He does so through a series of Scenarios covering possible events, followed by related chapters that delve into the causes behind these events. It makes for a compelling, and starkly frightening read. I can’t think of a better book to read if you’re hoping to hold onto Halloween’s chills than this.

Each of the scenarios covers a different geo-political area, beginning with Europe in 2045 and running the gamut from China to India to Canada and the USA. Different time periods are examined as well: the 2045 already mentioned, but also 2019 (Russia), 2029 (USA), 2036 (Northern India), and more. In order to gather enough information to create his scenarios, Dyer has conducted dozens of interviews with everyone from climate and NASA scientists to government advisors, from military strategists to environmental activists. He even admits at one point to one of his interviewees questioning his eco-cred – who is Gwynne Dyer to think he can take on climate change? After all, he’s better known for his writing on military history and international relations; however, this background proves to be a natural fit for his chosen topic. It isn’t climate change per se that is his topic: it’s the international fallout that will possibly result from increased temperatures, rising seas, and drastically changing local realities.

While the scenarios are largely concerned with war (he predicts, for example, nuclear war between India and Pakistan over water management) and mass refugee movements (Mexico north, southern Europe toward northern Europe, among others), the chapters that are interspersed between them deal with a combination of solid facts, and well-educated guesses. These are not the predictions you see on the cover of the end of year News of the World or National Enquirer tabloids; no, these are predictions made by people who are recognised experts in their fields. Interviews with experts are indented and copious, taking up pages upon pages of space. Dyer has done his research, and he allows these experts to lay the frightening ramifications of global warming out in plain language. Certainly, Dyer makes his own comments as well, but the most damning evidence is left to those that have made it their life’s work to study climate change. In this Dyer shows a deft hand, tying together different ideas and commentary into cohesive chapters.

I’ve had personal experience with people who do not believe that climate change is happening. The usual fallback position depends on who you are talking to, and what their personal reason for disbelieving the overwhelming scientific evidence is, but the one I’ve run into the most is that it’s a global conspiracy by scientists to gain billions of dollars in government funding. Ignoring the fact that there aren’t billions of dollars available in funding for scientific research, not even in Bizarro World Grant Land, believing this line of reasoning doesn’t involve only accusing scientists of a conspiracy; no, it involves the United Nations, every national scientific board in the developed world, the governments of most countries, the militaries of most major nations (including the US and the UK), and the oil and gas companies, who are actively pumping tens of millions of dollars into politicians pockets (not to mention their paid lobbyists) in order to cast a net of misinformation far and wide. As Dyer says in his introduction: even if there is only a 99% chance that climate change is anthropocentric (man-made), it’s still happening. Even the far-right oil-loving Alberta Wild Rose party has now acknowledged that climate change is a fact.

Dyer’s goal in writing this book is to bring the need for massive and rapid change to the table. We’re at a point now where maintaining anything less than a two degree centigrade change by 2050 is unlikely, and if we maintain current emission rates, we’re looking at a six degree increase in average world temperatures by 2100. Dyer points out that average temperature does not mean that everywhere will have an even rise in temperature; no, a six degree increase in average means that inland areas, such as Arizona or northern Texas, will be looking at closer to an eight to ten degree rise, while coastal areas will be commensurately less. The bugaboo that goes hand-in-hand with the temperature rise, is the accompanying rise in ocean levels. Six degrees will equal about two meters of rise by 2100, inundating many of the world’s great coastal cities, such as New York, London, Cairo, and Shanghai. The scariest thing is this: most of the experts Dyer interviews says we are now locked into a solid two degree change, and that this might be enough to kick automatic feedback loops into starting. Of these, the melting of arctic permafrost and the loss of summer ice over the Arctic circle are two of the most frightening. Less ice means less solar radiation bounced back into space, and the melting permafrost releases large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than Carbon Dioxide.

The book is very readable, although I do admit to a certain weakness for alternate histories, past or present. Will the world turn out as Dyer predicts? Who’s to say? The effects of climate change are already present, and measurable (the European heat wave of 2003, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy). According to Dyer, the greatest threat to humanity will be in how we ourselves react to this growing crisis. Let’s hope we can be more mature as a species in cleaning up this mess, than we were in creating it in the first place.

Steve’s Grade: B
While quite readable, Dyer’s book becomes somewhat pedantic at times, reading as a combination Science Fiction text and an examination of global military planning.


Gwynne Dyer’s website

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  1. potamus says:

    A great read Steve — at least we’ll be gardening in December by the time we retire…

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