GWYNNE DYER is available for a limited number of speaking engagements.
His main presentation for corporate, governmental and financial clients, “The State of the World” is a tour of the global horizon with special emphasis on political and economic surprises that may affect their operations and investment strategies. Recent clients include Canaccord Genuity, the Bank of Montreal, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development of the Government of Alberta, and the Association of Canadian Pension Management. This topic is constantly updated and always available.
For universities, colleges and professional organisations in the educational sector, he is currently offering a lecture on the dominant role of non-violence in modern revolutions, one more specifically focused on current upheavals in the Middle East, and one about the geopolitics of climate change. See outlines below.
He will consider other topics. He can be contacted through this website.
A couple of years ago, I realised that the professional military in various countries were taking an interest in climate change. They had grasped that the first and biggest impact of global warming, for human beings, is on the food supply – and as more and more people scrambled for less and less food, there was going to be a growing demand for their services. So I set out on what turned into a two-year tour of the climate-change world, interviewing the scientists, the generals, the diplomats and the politicians. This is what I knew at the end that I didn’t know at the start.
First, this thing is coming at us a whole lot faster than the publicly acknowledged wisdom has it. When you talk to the people at the sharp end of the climate business, there is an air of suppressed panic in many of the conversations. We are not going to get through this without taking a lot of casualties, if we get through it at all.
Second, the generals are right. The key problem is that global warming cuts into food production, and some countries (mostly, those nearer the equator) are going to suffer from it much more than others. They will generate huge numbers of refugees, they may become “failed states”, and they could even end up at war with one another. The military will have plenty to keep them busy – and the more chaotic the world gets, the less chance there is for a global agreement on curbing greenhouse gases.
Third, there is a limit beyond which we must not go. If the rise in the average global temperature exceeds two degrees Celsius, we will probably trigger feedbacks that cause huge releases of naturally stored carbon dioxide and methane. Melting the permafrost would do it, or just warming the sea’s surface too much. Once those natural processes are set in motion, we could cut our own greenhouse gas emissions all the way back to zero and find out that the warming was still heading for five or six degrees Celsius. That would mean mass death.
Fourth, we are going to pass right through the two degree limit. Two degrees equates to 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and we are already at 390 ppm. Our emissions are now raising that number by 3 ppm per year. It is very hard to believe that the talks for an international deal to replace the Kyoto accord will succeed soon enough, and mandate deep enough cuts, to stop the rise short of 450 ppm. The huge differences between the “old rich” countries and the newly industrialising ones will either delay a deal for years, or result in a bad compromise. We will be lucky to stop before 500 or even 550 ppm.
Fortunately, there is a way to cheat: various geo-engineering techniques that create an artificial sun-screen to keep the temperature below two degrees hotter. Putting sulphur particles into the stratosphere, or thickening low-lying marine clouds to make them more reflective, are only stop-gap measures. They don’t solve the problem. But they could win us extra decades to work at getting our emissions down without triggering the feedbacks. We will probably be doing something like that within ten years.
This is a very big crisis, but there is a way through it.
THE TRIUMPH OF NON-VIOLENCE
The past quarter-century has seen a wave of non-violent revolutions that overthrew tyrants in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, and brought democracy to several dozen countries. In the past two years it has finally reached the Arab world, one of the last bastions of tyranny.
“You will get more with kind words and a gun than you will get with kind words alone,” said Al Capone, and of course he was right. But non-violence is not about kind words at all. In the context of a revolution, non-violence is a powerful political technique that constrains the amount of violence that can be used a regime whose authority is being challenged, by avoiding any use of violence by the revolutionaries that would give the regime a pretext for using all the force at its disposal.
It is, in other words, not a moral position but a carefully calculated psychological technique. It works because while morality varies according to the perspective and interests of the actor, almost all human beings (apart from psychopaths) have the same fundamental psychology. They need to justify their actions to themselves and to others, and non-violent action deprives the oppressor of an essential pretext for resorting to public violence himself.
That is not to say that he will use no force at all. In last year’s Egyptian revolution, for example, about 830 people were killed, almost all of them protesters. Very few were policemen, and none were soldiers. At any time in the six weeks that Tahrir Square was occupied, the Mubarak regime could have cleared it with machine-gun fire in ten minutes, but the protesters, by avoiding the use of any violence themselves, did not give the regime the excuse to resort to such extreme force.
The secret police could snatch a few students from the edge of the crowd and beat them to death in an alley, and they often did. However, the regime never ordered the army to open fire on the crowd, for two reasons. Torturing people to death in the privacy of police basements is deniable, but massacring large numbers of the regime’s own citizens in public fatally undermines its claim to legitimacy. Besides, the army might not obey the order to shoot.
Non-violence is not a sure-fire technique for revolution. Some regimes HAVE cleared the square with machine-gun fire and lived to tell the tale – Burma in 1988 and China in 1989, for example. Some non-violent revolutions have degenerated into civil war, as the one in Syria is doing at the moment. But most non-violent revolutions succeed, and in the past quarter-century they have virtually doubled the number of people living in democratic countries.
A NEW MIDDLE EAST
Non-violent democratic revolutions are sweeping through the Arab World, until now one of the last strongholds of tyranny and poverty. They are a great advance for liberty, but they don’t solve the problem of poverty – and they may open the door to power to Islamist movements. They may also destroy the Arab-Israeli “peace process”, but it was pretty close to dead anyway.
The great fear in the West is that Islamist radicals will win the struggle for power in the post-revolutionary Arab countries as they did in post-revolutionary Iran 30 years ago. Will new anti-Western regimes cut off the West’s oil supply, or send terrorists to attack Western countries, or both?
Iran itself can give us part of the answer to these questions, for despite its anti-Western rhetoric it has never stopped exporting its oil, and it has never been involved in terrorist attacks against the West.
The West is no longer vulnerable to oil embargoes because the producers can no longer afford to stop pumping it. They need the cash flow to support populations that are far bigger than they were a generation ago, and have far higher expectations. We don’t need to control their governments to get oil from them; just send them a cheque.
As for Islamist terrorism, these revolutions are a massive, probably decisive popular rejection of the whole Islamist ideology. Al-Qaeda and its allies have been trying to trigger revolutions against the existing Arab regimes for three decades, with absolutely no success. Now the revolutions are happening, but with no Islamist involvement whatever.
And so to the “peace process.” The Israelis are deeply frightened by these changes in the Arab world, for having almost all the key Arab regimes under the American thumb made life very easy for them. Now they will have to deal with governments that really represent Arab public opinion, and some Israeli policies, like the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, are deeply repugnant to most Arabs.
The “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, after a quarter-century of failed negotiations, has been losing credibility on the Arab side. Why go on begging for a Palestinian mini-state in the occupied territories? Wait half a generation, and the higher Palestinian birth-rate will created an Arab majority in the entire area between the Jordan River and the sea. Then just demand the vote for Palestinians in the whole region: the “one-state solution.”
This shift in Arab strategy, though it does not involve military action, would be a long-term existential threat to the current Jewish state of Israel. These revolutions, by removing regimes that conformed to American policy rather than the views of their own population, are revealing the reality of Israel’s strategic situation in the region. But they also create an opportunity, perhaps a last opportunity, for a realistic Israeli government to negotiate a “two-state solution” that could win the support of the new Arab regimes.
GWYNNE DYER has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities, finishing with a Ph.D. in Military and Middle Eastern History from the University of London. He served in three navies and held academic appointments at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Oxford University before launching his twice-weekly column on international affairs, which is published by over 175 papers in some 45 countries.
His first television series, the 7-part documentary ‘War‘, was aired in 45 countries in the mid-80’s. One episode, ‘The Profession of Arms’, was nominated for an Academy Award. His more recent works include the 1994 series ‘The Human Race’, and ‘Protection Force’, a three-part series on peacekeepers in Bosnia, both of which won Gemini awards. His award-winning radio documentaries include ‘The Gorbachev Revolution’, a seven-part series based on Dyer’s experiences in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in 1987-90, and ‘Millennium‘, a six-hour series on the emerging global culture.
Papers that use Dyer’s column regularly include the Japan Times, the Korea Times, the Straits Times (Singapore), the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), the Bangkok Post, the Jakarta Post, the Canberra Times, the New Zealand Herald, The Pioneer (New Delhi), DNA (Bombay), The Telegraph (Calcutta), The Island (Sri Lanka), Dawn (Karachi), the Arab News (Saudi Arabia), the Jordan Times, the Jerusalem Post, Egypt Today, the Turkish Daily News, the Tehran Times, the Moscow Times, Lidove Noviny (Prague), Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki), Information (Copenhagen), NRC Handelsblad (Rotterdam), De Standaard (Brussels), Zeitpunkt (Switzerland), Internazionale (Rome), Daily Vision (Uganda), The Star (Nairobi), The Citizen (Johannesburg), the Jamaica Daily Gleaner, the Trinidad Express, the Guyana Chronicle and the Buenos Aires Herald. They also appear in a large number of American and Canadian papers.
Dyer’s recent books include “Ignorant Armies: Sliding into War in Iraq” (2003), “Future: Tense” (2005) and “The Mess They Made: The Middle East After Iraq” (2007), “Climate Wars” 2009), and “Crawling from the Wreckage” (2010).