'Climate Wars' book - ten years on

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Approximately ten years ago, Gwynne Dyer wrote an excellent non-fiction book entitled 'Climate Wars: The fight for survival as the world overheats'. I reviewed that book five years ago, along with other books such as Six Degrees by Mark Lynas and Storms of my Grandchildren’ by James Hansen.

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I want to talk about 'Climate Wars' again because I was reminded about its predictions, last week, when I read that the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, had spoken of his extreme concern that India and Pakistan were on an inexorable slide towards war, and particularly nuclear war. The current military action in Kashmir had sparked this concern, but there are also ominous long-term trends. Climate change is causing glacier loss that feeds major rivers in the Indian sub-continent, such as the Indus and Brahmaputra. Drought is therefore increasing on these river systems. There is also major drought in Northern India, due to changing weather systems and the loss of groundwater due to over-farming.

After reading the article, I remembered that 'Climate Wars' had predicted these problems and the threat of nuclear war between Pakistan and India. I picked up the book again, now ten-years-old, and read its introduction. It seems more accurate now than it did when I read it. Here is the book's summary of 2045:

SCENARIO ONE: THE YEAR 2045

Average global temperature: 2.8 degrees Celsius higher than 1990.

Global population: 5.8 billion.

Since the final collapse of the European Union in 2036, under the stress of mass migration from the southern to the northern members, the reconfigured Northern Union (France, Benelux, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland and the old Habsburg domains in central Europe) has succeeded in closing its borders to any further refugees from the famine-stricken Mediterranean countries. Italy, south of Rome, has been largely overrun by refugees from even harder-hit North African countries and is no longer part of an organised state, but Spain, Padania (northern Italy) and Turkey have all acquired nuclear weapons and are seeking (with little success) to enforce food sharing on the better-fed countries of northern Europe. Britain, which has managed to make itself just about self-sufficient in food by dint of a great national effort, has withdrawn from the continent and shelters behind its enhanced nuclear deterrent.

Russia, the greatest beneficiary of climate change in terms of food production, is the undisputed great power of Asia. However, the reunification of China after the chaos of the 2020s and 2030s poses a renewed threat to its Siberian borders, for even the much reduced Chinese population of eight hundred million is unable to feed itself from the country's increasingly arid farmland, which was devastated by the decline of rainfall over the North Chinese plain and the collapse of the major river systems.

Southern India is re-emerging as a major regional power, but what used to be northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh remain swept by famine and anarchy, due to the collapse of the flow in the glacier-fed Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and the increasingly frequent failure of the monsoon. Japan, like Britain, has withdrawn from its continent and is an island of relative prosperity bristling with nuclear weapons. The population of the Islamic Republic of Arabia, which had risen to forty-million, fell by half in five years after the exhaustion of the giant Ghawar oil field in 2020, and has since halved again due to the exorbitant price of what little food remains available for import from any source.

Uganda's population, 5 million at independence in 1962, reached no million in 2030 before falling back to 30 million, and the majority of the survivors are severely malnourished. Brazil and Argentina still manage to feed themselves, but Mexico has been expelled from the North American Free Trade Area, leaving the United States and Canada with just enough food and water to maintain at least a shadow of their former lifestyles. The Wall along the U.S.—Mexican border is still holding.

Human greenhouse-gas emissions temporarily peaked in 2032, at 47 per cent higher than 1990, due largely to the dwindling oil supply and the Chinese Civil War. However, the release of thousands of megatons of methane and carbon dioxide from the melting permafrost in Arctic Canada, Alaska and Siberia has totally overwhelmed human emissions cuts, and the process has slid beyond human ability to control. The combined total of human and `neo-natural' greenhouse-gas emissions continues to rise rapidly, and the average global temperature at the end of the century is predicted to be 8 or 9 degrees Celsius higher than 1990.

Prognosis: Awful.

The above description does seem more likely than when I read it, five years ago.

For example, Britain's drift into becoming a right-wing, fortress island nation with a disintegrating democracy is well under way. There is even talk at the moment of our duplicitous and amoral Prime Minster invoking the Civil and Contingencies Act, a form of martial law, to make sure that we leave the European Union. He recently suspended Parliament, talked of anyone who disagreed with Brexit as a traitor and generally stoked hostility and division. Also, the construction of the Mexico Wall is accelerating, greater numbers of African refugees are attempting to enter the EU, and meeting with increasing hostility, particularly in Italy. Southern Europe is suffering terrible droughts and forest fires. The only problems I can see in the introduction that aren't already under way are those in China. This may be due to intelligent long-term planning by that country, or simply control of the research into those areas; it's hard to tell. Overall, the trends described in the book are pretty much spot-on.

Many readers may think that the predictions described in 'Climate Wars' are extreme; they may prefer to think that there'll only be a gradual change in our condition on this planet. Unfortunately, history tells us that this is a common mistake. Many people invariably think that sudden, worsening changes will never occur. For example, the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States was regarded as ridiculous by many people, six months before he did become President. The prospect of a Second World War was regarded as unthinkable by many people in Europe in 1934. Five years later, it was fully underway. People tend to disbelieve that something bad will come soon, often because they don't want it to happen, or because they don't like change. Alternatively, they don't believe the dark prediction because they have an overly-flattering view of human-nature.

In conclusion, I think that 'Climate Wars' is very much a realistic assessment. This is not a great surprise, partly because a lot of its source material was military predictions. The world events of the last ten years, as far as I can tell, have fallen closely in line with its predictions. I therefore think that its long-term predictions are likely to occur. On that topic, I've recently written about the critical need for all of us to begin building very large habitats for our long-term survival on this planet and my motivation to do this has not waned. I'll continue to write on that matter in the foreseeable future.