Dyer’s optimism about Arctic misplaced

Well-known Canadian writer Gwynne Dyer is not often accused of excessive optimism

Well-known Canadian writer Gwynne Dyer is not often accused of excessive optimism.

The column by him that ran in last week’s Times under the headline “Race for Arctic resources waste of effort” might be an exception, however.

In the column, Dyer argued that fears about military conflicts developing in the Arctic were “nonsense.”

He does mention at the end that the ice is melting, which will speed global warming and in turn raise world sea levels by seven meters.

“But that’s a problem for another day,” he wrote.

Actually, global warming is not a problem for another day. It’s happening now and, if it’s allowed to continue, one of the few places on Earth that will continue to be habitable will be the Arctic.

What would the world look like if we allow global warming to continue? Scientist James Lovelock in his book, “The Revenge of Gaia” included three maps (Penguin 2007 edition, pg. 81).

One shows the Earth as it is today. Most of the rest of the land surface is forest. Areas of scrub and desert are largely confined to southwestern North America, northern Africa, southwest Asia, and much of Australia.

The second map shows the world if temperatures increase by 5C, as predicted by IPCC for the end of this century. Pretty well the only forest is confined to a narrow strip around the Arctic Ocean, plus other smaller tracts in the Himalayas and on islands such as Great Britain. Nearly all the continents would be scrub and desert.

Lovelock’s map is just a rough approximation, but it does underline the importance of the Arctic in a future world dominated by climate change.

How will Russia retain control of Siberia when millions of hectares of what is now taiga become arable land – at the same time as millions of hectares of what is now arable land in China become desert?

How will Canada, with 34 million people, defend itself when 310 million Americans start to move north – closely followed by millions of Mexicans and Central Americans?

Dyer’s optimistic view about peace in the Arctic is a bit ironic. His book, “Climate Wars,” reportedly is the one of the first with an in-depth analysis of how climate change will affect global security. No doubt, if he had more room to write, he would have qualified his statements with a more long-term view.

Incidentally, Dyer has given the Times several of his columns to run without charge. Before we sign up to start paying for them, we’d like to hear some feedback from readers about whether they find them worthwhile. They certainly are thought provoking.