Some Internet wags have nicknamed author Gwynne Dyer “Grim Dire,” and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how they came up with the name.
Speaking at Elmira District Secondary School Tuesday morning about his latest book, Climate Wars, Dyer painted a bleak picture of a future where much of today’s agricultural land is no longer fertile, where starving refugees flee famine, and countries use military force to seal their borders.
Dyer began researching the book several years ago, when he learned that top military brass in the United States and Europe were quietly doing studies and scenarios on climate change.
Dyer told the students that he arrived at four conclusions: climate change is progressing faster than scientific models predicted; there will be plenty of jobs for soldiers in the near future; although we have the technologies to avoid the worst, we won’t use them in time because of politics; but there are ways to buy ourselves more time to avoid the worst consequences.
The point of no return, Dyer said, is an average global temperature two degrees higher than normal. Past two degrees, global warming will be out of human hands, as natural processes start releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
“The first and biggest impact of climate change is going to be on food supply,” Dyer said.
As the Earth warms, the tropics and subtropics will get too hot and dry for agricultural crops. Waves of starving refugees will head north, putting a strain on the food supply of those countries and prompting calls for the border to be closed.
While we have the technologies – nuclear and renewable power, electric cars, geothermal heating systems – to cut our output of greenhouse gases, no country is going to want to be the first to make big cuts, and getting all countries to agree on a binding treaty will take too long.
That, Dyer said, leaves us looking at technologies that won’t cut emissions but will hold the global temperature down to buy us more time. He outlined several options for the students: releasing sulpher dioxide into the upper atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of volcano eruptions; thickening the low-lying clouds over ocean waters so they reflect more sunlight; or painting every roof and road white, a measure NASA scientists calculated could lower the global temperature by one degree.
Scientists have been reluctant to discuss those measures until very recently, fearing people would want a quick solution instead of doing the hard work of cutting emissions. Dyer suspects we’ll be doing more than talking about them; we’ll be trying them in the next five to 10 years.
“We’re not trying to save the planet,” he reminded the students. “The planet’s fine, it wouldn’t even miss us. We’re trying to save ourselves.”