2012 Year-Ender 

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The world's drift towards global catastrophe due to climate change is becoming impossible to deny. This northern summer saw prolonged droughts and heat waves ravage crops from the U.S. Midwest to the plains of Russia, and soaring food prices as the markets responded to shortages in food supply.

This September saw Arctic sea ice cover fall to its lowest ever level: only half of the total area covered by ice in September ten years ago. And October saw Hurricane Sandy devastate much of the U.S. east coast, causing a hundred deaths and over $30 billion in damage. It was the second-costliest tropical storm in American history (after Katrina, in New Orleans, seven years ago).

Yet the global response is as feeble as ever. The annual round of global negotiations on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, held this December in Qatar, merely agreed that they would try to get some sort of deal by 2015. Even if they do, however, it won't go into effect until 2020.

So for the next eight years the only legal constraint on warming will be the modest cuts in emissions agreed at Kyoto fifteen years ago. Moreover, those limits only apply to the old industrial powers. There are no limits whatever on the rise of emissions by the fast-growing economies of the emerging industrial powers in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Even lemmings usually act more wisely than this.

November brought a week of massive Israeli air and missile strikes against the Gaza Strip, allegedly in retaliation for Palestinian missile attacks against Israel, but the tit-for-tat has been going on for so long that it's pointless to discuss who started it. And nothing Israel does can stop the growing support for a Palestinian state: in late November the United Nations General Assembly granted Palestine non-voting observer state status by a vote of 138-9.

More worrisome was the threat of Israeli air strikes on Iran, supposedly to stop it from getting nuclear weapons. That would be a very big war if it started: the United States would almost inevitably get dragged in, the flow of oil from the Gulf states would stop, and the world economy would do a nosedive.

But there is no proof that Iran is currently working on nuclear weapons (the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services both say no), and mere air strikes would not cripple Iran's nuclear industry for long. So the whole issue is probably an Israeli bluff.

A bluff to what end — to get the rest of the world to impose severe economic sanctions against Iran, in the hope that they will cause enough pain to get Iranians to overthrow the present regime? The damage is certainly being done — the value of the Iranian rial collapsed this year — but the power of the ayatollahs is unshaken. They will not be overthrown, and there will not be a war. I think.

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