All of us have heard about global warming. And we’ve heard about the arms race. What happens when those two positive feedback loops intersect?
That’s the subject of Gwynne Dyer’s recent book Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats.
Dyer puts his four conclusions in the introduction to his book.
First, he believes global warming and the wars it could cause are coming at us faster than conventional wisdom would have us think.
Second, if we haven’t cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2030 and to zero by 2050, then many will not live to see 2100.
Third, we are going to need geo-engineering solutions as stopgap measures.
Fourth, the more the global temperature rises, the less likely it becomes that we will be able to create the global cooperation we need to solve the problem.
The writer identifies a number of potential spots where wars could begin.
The border between Pakistan and India is one. Pakistan’s agriculture depends on irrigation water that comes from rivers that start in India. Those rivers depend on glaciers to feed them during the summer, glaciers that soon will be gone. Both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers.
If we fail to act, what’s the worst that could happen? Dyer outlines the scenario given by scientist James Lovelock in his book The Revenge of Gaia. Lovelock predicts that the world could enter a state similar to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) of 55 million years ago. For a period of about 200,000 years the lower and middle latitudes of Earth were largely desert and scrub, with a narrow band of forested land around the poles.
A few human beings could survive, but they would have to manage without agriculture as we now know it.
That isn’t the worst case scenario, however.
The worst case scenario would involve the creation of what are called “Canfield oceans.”
A Canfield ocean occurs when the water becomes so low in oxygen that the sulphur bacteria come out of the ocean floor and take over.
An example of this today is the Black Sea, which has a layer of oxygen-rich water 150 – 200 m thick sitting on top of water that is high in hydrogen sulphide (the smell you get from rotten eggs).
Many scientists believe that Canfield oceans were involved in most of the major extinction events in the Earth’s history. They believe that global warming caused by carbon dioxide and methane released by massive lava flows caused Canfield oceans in the world’s seas. The effect was so strong that large amounts of hydrogen sulphide were released into the atmosphere.
During the Permian-Triassic event of 250 million years ago 96 per cent of all marine species and 70 per cent of all land species went extinct.
We need to start now to implement realistic solutions to global warming, such as a worldwide carbon tax.