Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars

Last night, when I finished Gwynne Dyer's Climate Wars, I walked to the kitchen to take off my glasses and my watch (a routine whose origin I no longer recall, and whose purpose is increasingly unclear), and on the way I stopped to look out the dining room window. Standing beside the liquor, I thought hard about having a serious drink. It's not like it's going to have an impact on the global environment -- and it's not like things are going well enough, according to Dyer, that one should remain sober and optimistic.

Feel free to listen to Dyer on the CBC talking about these ideas, in a three-part series on the brilliant series Ideas, but I don't have the strength for it.

The book is divided into forward-looking scenarios and explanatory/exploratory chapters. Basically, the scenarios are meant to scare the pants off you, and generally they do, and the chapters are meant to clarify just why your level of fear should remain high enough that your pants won't stay on without suspenders, as well as to let us in on some of the ideas people are working on to halt climate change. Some of those ideas seem crazy (ie, 16 trillion partly transparent metre-wide spaceships in geosynchronous orbit to reduce solar radiation -- pages 203-05, the idea of one Roger Angel), but others are far less so. Really, this book is the story of the remaining ideas that might let us fix our way technologically out of this mess, without our substantially changing our lives.

In Dyer's view there's no way humanity will be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions nearly rapidly enough to avoid catastrophic effects. If he's right, we really only have two options: (1) die horrifically and catastrophically as a species, possibly in an ocean-driven global extinction entirely of our own making that could take out 96% or so of the species on this planet, or (2) take on the collective job of "planetary maintenance engineer." Hardly a romantic idea, micromanaging the entire planet, but given the alternative....

By the end of the book I was calm enough not to need that drink I was pondering, but only just. Dyer opens the book strongly, with some detailed geopolitical analysis that looks at the likelihood of warfare in different regions caused by climate change, but this fades away into the investigation of Big Ideas. I wished he'd kept up with the politics, because it's a strength for him, but I did understand his desire to look for solutions rather than more questions.

Goodness knows I'd like some solutions.


Murray Suid said…
I'm coming late to this book. I did find your review illuminating and entertaining.

Popular Posts