October 19th, 2020

COVID-19 and climate change

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 30, 2020.

Geoengineering can create window

of time to make necessary changes

Human beings respond well to a crisis that is familiar, especially if it is also imminent. They don’t do nearly as well when the threat is unfamiliar and still apparently quite distant. Consider our response to the current coronavirus threat.

Countries in East Asia with recent experience of similar viruses (SARS, etc.) immediately responded with “test, track and isolate” drills, plus instant lock-downs if the virus had already gained a foothold in the population.

Other countries, just as rich and well-educated, had the same information, but they still waited several months before taking emergency measures that upset the comfortable routine of their lives. So the United States, Britain and France all ended up with death rates per million more than fifty times higher than China, Korea and Japan.

The same applies to global heating, except that in this case we are all Americans. None of us has prior experience of a genuine climate crisis, and although we have known enough about what’s going to happen to justify urgent action for 30 years now, we have done nothing decisive about it.

We have lots of “‘clean” technology, but total demand for energy has grown so fast that we are still getting a steady 80 per cent of our energy from fossil fuels. Realistically, this is not going to change much. We are who we are, shaped by millions of years of evolution, and our ancestors didn’t do long-term planning; they had to concentrate on acute short-term problems.

A truly serious response to the climate threat will therefore come only when it is actually starting to hurt. Unfortunately, by then it will probably be too late.

The Earth system – biosphere, atmosphere, the oceans, the rocks, all the components that govern the climate – plays by its own rules. It will absorb new inputs like warming for a long time while changing as little as possible: it’s a “homeostatic” system.

We are still benefiting from this feature now: a full degree Celsius of warming already, and not much to show for it except hotter summers, shorter winters and bigger storms. But when the pressure on the climate system gets too great – reaches a “tipping point” – it is liable to charge off in unpredictable directions at high speed.

“Non-linear change,” they call it, and we won’t like it a bit. Hundreds of millions, maybe billions, will start to die.

THEN we’ll be ready to make great changes to save ourselves, but it will be too late. Human systems will be collapsing under the impact of famines, wars and endless waves of refugees, and besides once the climate hits non-linear change it’s almost impossible to bring it back. We’re stuck with wherever it ends up, whether that new state will support a large human civilization or not.

How far ahead is this calamity? We probably have at least a decade or two. Will we end all our greenhouse gas emissions in that time? Probably not.

“Cutting” our emissions isn’t enough. We actually have to stop all of our emissions before we push the climate system over the edge, and we don’t even know precisely where the edge is.

Every bit of emissions we can cut now gives us a little more time before we reach the edge, but the global population will still be going up and people in the poorer countries will still be increasing their energy use. (It’s their turn; you can’t deny them that.)

So the crisis almost certainly will arrive, and then we will finally be willing to make radical changes. What we will desperately need at that point is more time. That’s why we will need geoengineering.

Geoengineering is not a cure; it is a way of temporarily counteracting the warming caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases, by reflecting a small part of the incoming sunlight in one way or another.

In fact, you could say that it is “positive” geoengineering, as opposed to the large-scale “negative” geoengineering we have been doing for the past two centuries by dumping huge amounts of warming gases into the atmosphere.

When we are finally ready to act decisively on global warming, we will need a window of time to make the changes that are required to preserve this global civilization and the biosphere it now dominates. Only geoengineering can create that window.

We don’t need to start geoengineering now. It would be wonderful if we never have to do it, but that would take a miracle. We cannot know how long we would have to go on doing it, either: long enough to get the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back down to a safe level, certainly, which would be at least a matter of decades.

But even without knowing the answers to these questions, we clearly need to speed up research and testing of the various potential techniques for geoengineering now.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is “Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).”

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Good article, sad statement.

Once again, the mass majority will reap what the 1% has sown.

Steve Bottrell

This is not the 1%s fault, well not this generations 1% at least. They simply won the game we all play. Isn’t the goal in society to be the 1%? Isn’t that why we have things like lotteries, pro sports, celebrity, politics and so on? We have to radically change the socioeconomic system and get rid of the monetary system. We can do that by creating access abundance by making use of our technology and scientific knowledge.
I don’t know Dyer, but his tone suggests that he thinks we can solve this problem within the confines of our current socioeconomic systems. I don’t think we can. A system based on self interest, differential advantage, social stratification, and scarcity is not conducive of a solution to a problem like this. Really, it might be too late for any solution…


In all the discussion about Covid 19 , one should be aware that of all the recorded pandemics in history, Covid19 would not even appear in the top 10 , in terms of danger to humanity. In response to this pandemic governments across the world willingly destroyed their economies , resulting in depression conditions that could easily reach 1929 proportions, massive unemployment, while instilling fear in the general population. There is no link to climate change here since most plagues and pandemics have taken place during cooling periods on earth.


I think the only link Mr. Dyer has made to the most recent pandemic regarding climate change is the huge cost of inaction or, I might add, politicizing science.

Our inability to act preventatively is wonderous, as your logic demonstrates: we act in a precautionary manner, the impacts are lower than expected, ergo we shouldn’t have acted … is this logical?

Coulee fan

curious how it is that some – and, even too many still – focus always on the economy. it seems that if the economy depended on the ill likes of racism, starving babies, making people all paranoid about each other so as to waste resources and create massive pollution (as well as deaths directly related to ensuring there are always wars), one would support all that because of the economy. god is the economy; the king is the economy. yet the economy is dead (death); long live the economy.
fes – excellent take on both the dwyer article, and the curious entry that misses the point.
steve – a further thoughtful and commanding entry.