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“We’re Not Doomed, We’re Just In Big Trouble” – Gwynne Dyer On Global Instability And Climate Change

2010/07/05

“Recent scientific evidence has…given us a picture of the physical impacts on our world that we can expect as our climate changes. And those impacts go far beyond the environmental. Their consequences reach to the very heart of the security agenda.”

Margaret Beckett, former British foreign secretary

This is the quote that opens Gwynne Dyer’s book, Climate Wars. Mr Dyer is a London-based independent Canadian journalist, syndicated columnist and military historian. In 2010 he received the Order of Canada. His website summarizes his career this way:

Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities, finishing with a Ph.D. in Military and Middle Eastern History from the University of London. He served in three navies and held academic appointments at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Oxford University before launching his twice-weekly column on international affairs, which is published by over 175 papers in some 45 countries.
His first television series, the 7-part documentary ‘War’, was aired in 45 countries in the mid-80s. One episode, ‘The Profession of Arms’, was nominated for an Academy Award.  His more recent television work includes the 1994 series ‘The Human Race’, and ‘Protection Force’, a three-part series on peacekeepers in Bosnia, both of which won Gemini awards.  His award-winning radio documentaries include ‘The Gorbachev Revolution’, a seven-part series based on Dyer’s experiences in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in 1987-90, and ‘Millenium’, a six-hour series on the
emerging global culture.

So, what does Climate Wars have to say about the challenges the world faces in the coming decades, thanks to the grossly inadequate response of most governments to the threat that it poses? Some of the expected consequences of runaway climate change in the decades ahead are dwindling resources, massive population shifts, natural disasters, spreading epidemics, drought, rising sea levels, plummeting agricultural yields, devastated economies, and political extremism. Any one of these could tip the world towards conflict. Mr. Dyer points out that the military forces of both the United States and Britain have taken this threat seriously for years, although under George W. Bush’s presidency,  it was dangerous to one’s career to be seen treating climate change as a real and serious phenomenon. Despite that, the Pentagon hired the CNA Corporation to study the geopolitics of climate change. The resulting report, produced by the CNA Corporation in collaboration with eleven retired three- and four-star generals, was issued in April 2007 and is titled National Security and Climate. In that report, General Anthony C. Zinni, former commander-in-chief, U.S. Central Command, wrote:

You already have great tension over water [in the Middle East]. These are cultures often built around a single source of water. So any stresses on the rivers and aquifers can be a source of conflict. If you consider land loss, the Nile Delta region is the most fertile ground in Egypt. Any losses there [from a storm surge] could cause a real problem, again because the region is so fragile.

We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it.

For more of Gwynne Dyer on climate change, check out these videos or go to CBC’s website to listen to Climate Wars.

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