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Gwynn Dyer, authorby Gwynn Dyer

About two years ago, I realized that the militaries in various countries were starting to do climate change scenarios in-house – scenarios that started with the scientific predictions about rising temperatures, falling crop yields and other physical effects – and examine what that would do to politics and strategy.

The scenarios predicted failed states proliferating because governments couldn't feed their people; waves of climate refugees washing up against the borders of more fortunate countries; even wars between countries that shared the same rivers.

So I started interviewing everybody I could get access to. Not only senior military people, but scientists, diplomats and politicians.

About 70 interviews, a dozen countries and 18 months later, I have reached four conclusions that I didn't even suspect when I began the process. The first is simply this: The scientists are really scared. Their observations over the past two or three years suggest that everything is happening a lot faster than their climate models predicted.

This creates a dilemma for them, because for the past decade they have been struggling against a well-funded campaign that cast doubt on the phenomenon of climate change.

Now, finally, people and even governments are listening. Even in the United States, the world headquarters of climate change denial, 85 percent of the population now sees climate change as a major issue, and both presidential candidates in last month's election promised 80 percent cuts in American emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The scientists are understandably reluctant at this point to announce publicly that their predictions were wrong; that it's really much worse and the targets will have to be revised. Most of them are waiting for overwhelming proof that climate change really is moving faster, even though they are already privately convinced that it is.

So governments, now awakened to the danger at last, are still working to the wrong emissions target. The real requirement, if we are to avoid runaway global warming, is probably 80 percent cuts by 2030, and almost no burning whatever of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) by 2050.

The second conclusion is that the generals are right. Food is the key issue, and world food supply is already very tight: We have eaten up about two-thirds of the world grain reserve in the past five years, leaving only 50 days' worth in store. Even a 1.8-degree rise in average global temperature will take a major bite out of food production in almost all the countries that are closer to the equator than to the poles, and that includes almost all of the planet's breadbaskets.

So the international grain market will wither for lack of supplies. Countries that can no longer feed their people will not be able to buy their way out of trouble by importing grain from elsewhere, even if they have the money. Starving refugees will flood across borders, whole nations will collapse into anarchy – and some countries may make a grab for their neighbors' land or water.

These are scenarios that the Pentagon and other military planning staffs are examining now. They could start to come true as little as 15 or 20 years down the road. If this kind of breakdown becomes widespread, there will be little chance of making or keeping global agreements to curb greenhouse gas emissions and avoid further warming.

The third conclusion is that there is a point of no return after which warming becomes unstoppable – and we are probably going to sail right through it. It is the point at which human-caused warming triggers huge releases of carbon dioxide from warming oceans, or similar releases of both carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost, or both. Most climate scientists think that point lies not far beyond 3.6 degrees hotter.

Once that point is passed, the human race loses control: Cutting our own emissions may not stop the warming. But we are almost certainly going to miss our deadline. We cannot get the 10 lost years back, and by the time a new global agreement to replace the Kyoto accord is negotiated and put into effect, there will probably not be enough time left to stop the warming short of the point where we must not go.

So – final conclusion – we will have to cheat. In the past two years, various scientists have suggested several "geo-engineering" techniques for holding the temperature down directly. We might put a kind of temporary chemical sunscreen in the stratosphere by seeding it with sulphur particles, for example, or we could artificially thicken low-lying maritime clouds to reflect more sunlight.

These are not permanent solutions; merely ways of winning more time to cut our emissions without triggering runaway warming in the meanwhile. But the situation is getting very grave, and we are probably going to see the first experiments with these techniques within five years.

There is a way through this crisis, but it isn't easy and there is no guarantee of success. As the Irishman said to the lost traveler: "If that's where you want to go, sir, I wouldn't start from here."

Source: http://www.sltrib.com/Opinion/ci_11130077  
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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jan-12-2009)   
I came back to this article because of a discussion with a relative this weekend. I would like to sum up the points:

"The scientists are really scared. Their observations over the past two or three years suggest that everything is happening a lot faster than their climate models predicted.

"The second conclusion is that the generals are right. Food is the key issue, and world food supply is already very tight: We have eaten up about two-thirds of the world grain reserve in the past five years, leaving only 50 days' worth in store. Even a 1.8-degree rise in average global temperature will take a major bite out of food production in almost all the countries that are closer to the equator than to the poles, and that includes almost all of the planet's breadbaskets.

"The third conclusion is that there is a point of no return after which warming becomes unstoppable – and we are probably going to sail right through it. It is the point at which human-caused warming triggers huge releases of carbon dioxide from warming oceans, or similar releases of both carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost, or both. Most climate scientists think that point lies not far beyond 3.6 degrees hotter.

"So – final conclusion – we will have to cheat."

Here's my one point: WE CAN'T CHEAT!!

Remember the old butter commercial: "You don't fool with Mother Nature."?

In order to build the schemes, we have to have economic power. Economic power comes from overconsumption. That's the only place real profits and tax money come from. If we didn't overconsume, then the Big Science / Big Government / Big Scheme people wouldn't have any money and we wouldn't need the schemes. Most of the discussion about environmental issues comes from people living on grant money or donations. The very culture which pays for their lives is what creates the need for them. They will not, nay, CAN NOT speak out boldly enough against consumption and human exploitation of nature because it is too 'radical' for the system which enables them to exist.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-22-2008)   Web site

"Can we still get Cheetos if half the population is drowned on our coasts"? That is extreme language!

I mentioned the 11C rise because that is what was documented as the highest increase in the Permian extinction; apparently it did not continue higher, although it could have stayed that high for a million years, certainly not encouraging.

I agree that the combination of temperature change plus advanced weaponry and fighting over land and resources is what makes all this even more dangerous for the future.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-22-2008)   

I don't say this often, but those are some very good comments, Wavehunter.

My point about data analysis earlier is that if there was 11degC change, it wouldn't stop there. It would keep going and going until lakes and rivers are all held in the atmosphere again, as well as much of the oceans, even as the ice has melted and refilled the original ocean basins the additional 100 feet or so.

As for democracy saving itself; it can't. The problem is obviously with democratic governments that have voted themselves the right to horde resources as desired in order to fulfill their castles in the future sky called "profits". The ancient Greeks knew that democracies always elect the biggest bullies who promise the most reward to the most people for the lowest cost. That usually means using armies to take what they want.

As far as the guessing games for the future, remember the actual numbers they play with don't have much of anything to do with science, just economics and politics: "Can we still get Cheetos if half the population is drowned on our coasts?"
  
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Dec-22-2008)   Web site

David, you ask if we want to play the game of guessing whether a certain temperature rise will be survivable. Well, the EU already plays it: they have estimated the reductions in emissions needed to keep the rise lower than 2C. Some estimates suggest a rise of 4C this century, which is considered catastrophic.

11C would certainly be awful. Where I live, in Mexico, human life would cease. But it is possible to imagine a sustainable community of, say, 100,000 people living on a shrunken version of the island of Newfoundland and growing oranges in such a scenario. It would not be an extinction event. What would cause the extinction is that there would be 7 billion people fighting for their place on Newfoundland, using modern weaponry.

I agree with Auntie Grav on one point, but with reservations about the implications: the solution to the problem of global warming is far longer than the 4 or 8 year electoral cycle. Democracy may not be up to the job of saving us. Of course, getting rid of democracy would be a great shame, but if it came down to a choice of dictatorship or extinction I'd choose the former. The huge danger, of course, is that 'we the people' would have little way of preventing a benevolent dictatorship working in the interests of people and planet turning malevolent.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-22-2008)   

Exactly, David.
We often see the imaginary wonders of technology and deny using our imagination for the consequences because we don't want to "bring people down" from their perpetual high. Humans think that because something bad didn't happen to them YET, it won't.
In the energy scenario, I heard it put this way: "You can't go very wrong with wind power, but with nuclear, things can go VERY wrong."
Perhaps that's why the Illuminati/Bilderbergs/Rothschilds keep some technologies from us....with unlimited energy and antigravity, we can go extremely wrong. Too bad about the collapse of the petro-facade mechanism, though. It would have been nice to share our homesteads with our children.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-21-2008)   Web site

One of the references points I hear often is based on the release of frozen methane from under the oceans. Over 250 million years ago, there was a strong rise in volcanic activity, leading to CO2 rise, then temperature rise, and finally by release of frozen methane compounds from under the ocean. The temperature rose to almost 20F (11C) hotter than today. The consequences certainly would be very serious, and the atmosphere could also be unsupportive. I have not heard a final analysis of whether or not it would be survivable by humanity - but do we want to play that game?
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-21-2008)   

"My feeling is that global warming in itself will not cause the extinction of the human race: we could live on in smaller numbers."

I think this is wishful thinking. So far, all of the predictions of CO2 levels and methane release and ocean acidity have been exponentially too low. We are at the beginning of the spike of the hockey stick paddle, with nothing but acceleration of the rate of warming. There is not one thing that appears to indicate this trend is going to ever moderate itself once it began to rise.
I don't like it, either, but my experience with data analysis and instrumentation and the unreliability of scientific politics tells me that the planet is going to fry like the fragile egg that it is, and the only life which will endure is that which evolves from the organisms at ocean vents or embedded in rocks perhaps a thousand feet underground.
Don't forget, water vapor is a greenhouse gas, too.
The government and media won't tell us what they know about UFOs, do you think they are going to tell us the truth about destruction of the entire planet as long as they can make money on our ignorance and hope?

Someone will say, "But, but, but...You GOTTA have hope!"
No, you don't. You don't even hafta live. If the human race destroys its only supporting planet, donch'a think it's time for Nature to find a different employee to take care of things?
It's called "Natural Selection", and it happens whether 40% of Americans believe in it or not.
  
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Dec-20-2008)   Web site

Lots of wise words here. My feeling is that global warming in itself will not cause the extinction of the human race: we could live on in smaller numbers. What may do is the instability caused by global warming: fighting for precious resources, sometimes using nuclear weapons; refugee flows that number hundreds of millions. Wise leadership is certainly needed if we're to avoid this.

Reducing consumption - drastically - will help stave off the crisis for a while, but a consumption tax would cause other problems. The richest people could absorb the costs; the poorest would be driven to desperation, causing more instability and greater threat to human survival. What is certainly true is that a warming Earth cannot for long support a population of 6-7 billion if some people (Americans, Britons, Japanese, etc) are going to consume 30 times more resources than others (Haitians, Kenyans, Bangladeshis, etc).
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-16-2008)   Web site

To be sure, many systems will need to end up on their heads (after which they will discover that what they thought were their heads were really their butts in the first place) before we can live sustainably on this planet.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-15-2008)   

I think that's my point about leadership: If you have to convince people, then it isn't the right thing. If you have to worry about convincing people, then it isn't the right thing. The right things to do are pretty simple: reduce consumption, care for people who need caring for, educate the uneducated, diversify systems economically and geographically and logistically so that resources and people are not dependent upon single point sources for food, water, energy, etc.
Everything being done right now seems to be oriented toward centralizing power, money, and dependencies and propping up the legacy systems that have done so in the past. The common perception is "making the rich richer", but the problem is monolithic structures and top-heavy capitalization along with overprotective secrecy and obfuscation of government information. We used to have nepotism and now we have 'credentialism', where the lack of respect for the individual human became a 'cost center' bent on destroying local frugality by surveying them to death.
We are supposed to elect the uncommon leader who has some answers (not expect all of them) and is ready to Try. After all, that's the only natural right we have. Everyone should exercise it, including those at the top. I have no faith in the future because of the destruction wrought by humanity on our planet, but I'm not going to stop trying to fix things, and I'm not going to wait for someone to tell me it's okay to do so. I expect no less from the government once the election is over.
  
Comment by: City Worker (Dec-15-2008)   

There are a lot of good people out there who want to work with the Government and do the right thing. But they have to be convinced it is the right thing.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-15-2008)   

That's why they have to work. All taxes are financial burdens, but we still have them. If the proper system is put in place, then the job will be done, whether they are tossed out or not. That's how you know that someone's ideas are good: if those ideas are still in place after they are gone.
Social Security didn't go away just because FDR died.
The pols need to stop worrying about getting elected and start working on the problems faced by the country. Good ideas don't take 8 years to put in place.
Just Do It. If It doesn't work, do something else.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-15-2008)   Web site

The problem is that without some support, a government that imposes new financial burdens will be tossed out, by an election or by violent means.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-15-2008)   

From the standpoint of destruction of the planet, I will harp on a Consumption Tax again (start with 50% on all retail purchases). Taxing gasoline doesn't do anything about all the petroleum and other resources that get sucked up and spewed out for making plastics, heating homes, building electric cars, etc. It's time to look at the basic fact that humans are consuming the planet and tax that until it stops. It's all in the marketing, like speeding tickets. We need to stop trying to "raise revenue" and start trying to stop the madness.
It's time to stand up for "social engineering" and stand up PROUD! The masses don't need to be 'sold' on it, they need to be smacked back to the stone age and start growing their own food if they can. We need to put an end to the uselessness of such a hyperbusy method of creating things for people to do by consuming everything possible.

We are BEYOND the CO2 tipping point. Even if we stopped all carbon dumping right now, there is only a slim chance that any species are going to survive, let alone Homo Consumptis. Drastic actions need to be taken and they need to be taken yesterday. Leadership doesn't come from waiting for a consensus.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-14-2008)   Web site

Agreed, at least for now the public is not ready for strong action unless led there carefully.

As we probably all know by now, the results of a survey depend strongly on how the questions are asked. If we asked people a question relating directly to climate change and lifestyle: "Should the government tax gasoline so the price is $10 per gallon and use the money to innovate renewable energy solutions" I doubt that 85% would support that. Those same people might, however, say that climate change is a major issue. I do think that consistent public service messages and educational seminars could eventually change the depth of public sentiment.
  
Comment by: City Worker (Dec-14-2008)   

It's interesting to hear that 85 percent of the population now see climate change as a major issue. I found that among the people I associate with, the percentage is much smaller. As a matter of fact, I was extremely surpised to hear someone mention, not too long ago, something like: it's good that gas prices are going down, because then SUVs will be more popular again. Therefore, I think it's not enough to leave it up to the general population -- at least not among certain groups -- to take action on their own.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-14-2008)   Web site

I agree. I hope we get "lucky", but a big event (or perhaps a big trend such as lack of drinking water for an entire region) will also have a large number of unfortunate victims, won't it?
  
Comment by:  charlamagnum (carlos luna) (Dec-14-2008)   Web site

Too bad most people living in the world simply don't care about the consequences of burning fossil fuels. Something "big" has to happen for us to realize that a problem is there, so we can then talk about it and act upon it.

  
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