Climate Wars: Scotland's Fault?
By Keir Liddle
According to Gwynne Dyer, speaking at this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival, the world’s future doesn’t look all that rosy. After a chance encounter, three years ago, with an intelligence operative in Washington, Gwynne stumbled upon something interesting: the Pentagon were taking an interest in the geo-political implications of climate change. Indeed, such an interest that, according to Dyer, they had undertaken their own research and leaked it to the public via a number of think tanks in 2007/08. This so interested Dyer that he began to explore if other countries were seeing climate change in this manner.
He uncovered great concern in strategic circles about the potential for chaos, anarchy and waves of refugees that it seems likely- unless action really is taken soon- that climate change could cause. He discussed how there will be winners and losers due to climate change, and explained the terms “Lifeboat Britain”, “Lifeboat New Zealand” and “Lifeboat Japan”. He spoke of how African economic and climate refugees will become a far more common sight, as the world’s food production is severely impacted (reported by Dyer as being reduced by up to 38% in China, and 25% in India), leading people to try and escape North to flee famine, drought and hardship. He explained that the current thinking in geo-political terms is that we will see massive drops in crop yields, which may lead to revolution or failed states in many sub-tropical and tropical regions. He also touched upon how closing the Mexican border to climate/economic refugees could lead to potentially the greatest social divide in American history since the civil war.
Dyer stressed the importance of international cooperation on the issue now, while we are still talking to each other, and before climate war becomes a reality. However, Dyer remains hopeful for geo-engineering as a solution to the problem.
All in all, a very sobering talk, and if Dyer is accurate in his predictions then we really do need to act now on climate change.
Dr Iain Stewart also mentioned climate in his talk “How Earth Made Us”, discussing how, for most of the history of human civilization, we have been living dominated by the climate; shaped by it in various ways. However, we have now entered the anthropocene – the era where human activity now affects our climate. Humans have in essence become geological agents, a force to be reckoned with geologically in their own right, and the Earth Sciences, which used to be about finding things (deposits of ores, oil etc), has had to come to deal with complex societal issues.
Dr Stewart cited as an example the Anastasi peoples of the southwestern USA who abandoned their lands in around 1200AD due to local variations in climate, thanks to the El Nino and La Nina systems in the Pacific. This illustrated the extreme effects that climate can have on a civilization: evidence of drought, starvation, war and cannibalism have been found at Anastasi sites by archaeologists. Dr Stewart made the point that normal natural climate variations can have a big enough impact on us as it is, but that man-made climate change, according to the majority of the models, exacerbates the problem above and beyond normal variations. Indeed, Dr Stewart reckoned that cities in the southwestern United States could become uninhabitable within a matter of decades – which could see Las Vegas becoming a ghost town within some of the people who are reading this article’s lifetimes.
Dr Stewart showed us the now famous hockey stick graph that shows the true impact that man has had on the climate since the Scottish Enlightenment sparked the Industrial revolution. Yes, it seems that, for all I and some of my fellow Scots (perhaps tongue-in-cheek but perhaps also with a little bit of pride) brag on about creating the modern world plus introducing and championing Enlightenment values, should perhaps also take note of the impact those values and ideas are having on that same modern world.
Dr Stewart also made reference to the following quote which is worth repeating:
The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks!
– Dr Wally Broecker
Dr Stewart did end his talk positively, however, by noting that a Scot invented the wind turbine and Scotland could capitalise on this heritage to potentially spark another kind of revolution: this time in renewables. A ‘renewables’ revolution that could perhaps go some way to avoiding the nightmare scenarios outlined by Dyer in his talk.