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Gwynne Dyer Lecture

February 14, 2010

Last night I attended a lecture given by Gwynne Dyer on the Wilfrid Laurier University campus. Dyer talked mostly about his newest book, Climate Wars, which came out in 2008. Dyer was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and when he  became sixteen joined the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve. He obtained a BA in History from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1963; an MA in Military History from Rice University, Houston, Texas, in 1966; and a PhD in Military and Middle Eastern History at King’s College London in 1973. Dyer served in the Canadian, American, and British naval reserves. He was employed as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, 1973-77. In 1973 he began writing articles for leading London newspapers on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and soon decided to abandon academic life for a full-time career in journalism.

Gwynne Dyer speaking. This is not my photo

Dyer began his talk by describing how he came to write the book. Dyer was in Washington, D.C, keeping an eye on the Yanks. He was talking to a friend of his who worked at the Pentagon, and he revealed that, even under George W. Bush, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff were studying the impacts and effects on climate change on the role of the military. This interested Dyer and he talked to a few more people from the Pentagon, unoffically, and he learned how they would comission reports and have them farmed out to think tanks, as the Joint Chiefs could not put out reports acknowledging global warming. Dyer found the same thing in many other armies around the world, that the Generals were serious about climate change.

That the generals were serious about climate change was one of the three main conclusions Dyer wanted to get accross. The Generals have access to studies and facts that are never released, and the projections of the kind of ways climate change will effect the globe are all bad. One of the issues that Dyer brought up is the southern border of the United States. As climate change will primarily effect countries closest to the equator, Mexico and the other Central American countries are going to face alot of pressure and many people will move northwards. This, Dyer thinks could prompt the US to close its southern border. Dyer stressed however, that the only way it would work is if you were willing to kill people to keep them out. In Climate Wars, Dyer describes the southern border as having computer controlled machine guns to kill anyone trying to cross.

Dyer also stressed the importance of staying below an average increase in global temperature of more than two degrees. The reason why it is important to not cross that line is due to the number of negative feedback loops which will be triggered by a warming world. One example is the perma frost, which contains enough carbon and methane gas to double  the amount currently in our atmosphere. The perma frost is starting to melt, and as more of it melts, it will warm the Earth, causing further melting. A second feedback loop Dyer mentioned is that the world’s oceans contains a certain amount of carbon in it, and as the water gets warmer it, the amount of carbon it can contain decreases. That means as the water warms, it will release carbon, leading to more warming. These are serious threats because we will not be able to control these phenomena, but only try to act in reaction.

The second main point that Dyer wanted to make is that the science, particularly the IPCC reports which governments base their policies around, are out of date, which is further delaying any sort of reaction the world needs. This means the threat is hidden from the popular minds and people think that the problem is not as severe as the scientists do, leading to a worry fatigue. Dyer mentioned that the IPCC talked about putting out an interm report, but that was to be before the Copenhagen summit, which did not reach not real results in a treaty on global warming, but did had a couple successes particularly around issues such as forresting.
The final, and perhaps most important point, that Dyer made was the treaty we would have to make in the future is going to be very one sided if it is to actually be agreed to by the developed and the developing world. The first world essentially stole the free space in which the developing world could have used. This means, that due to history the West will have to accept large cuts in emissions as well as having to subsidise clean development for the rest of the world. Dyer said that the difference between the price of a coal power plant versus clean methods like wind farms or solar panels, would be paid by the West. But all is not to fear because it is posible for developed countries to mostly keep their standard of living while cutting emissions, it just takes the will to do so.

Regarding Ontario, Dyer noted that since it is towards the centre of the continent that it would face a higher average increase in  temperature then a place on the coasts, which is cooled by the oceans. Dyer said by 2080 the average temperature could raise by as much as 5 degrees, which would be a very substantial, leading to a change in the type of agriculture. Another thing is that as opposed to the prairy provinces, Ontario’s north will not be able to yield much more additional farm lands. The prairy provinces however will be able to gain more land to develop wheats. Canada would be one of the few countries which would gain farm land, instead of loosing it.

The last thing I wish to draw attention to is the whole vibe of the talk. Dyer, although not exactly positive about climate change, did nto have nearly as pessimestic view of the future. In the book it felt as if Dyer felt we were doomed, however during the lecture he told us clear paths for which humanity could navigate safely into the future.

Gwynne Dyer

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