James Lovelock turns everyone into a climate optimist

Posted on

"James Lovelock turns everyone into a climate optimist"

No, the profile of famed scientist James Lovelock in Rolling Stone will not give you renewed hope about humanity’s fate in the face of global warming. It will make you — or Al Gore or James Hansen or even me — look optimistic by comparison:

Lovelock has come to an unsettling conclusion: The human race is doomed. “I wish I could be more hopeful”….

In Lovelock’s view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. “The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia,” Lovelock says. “How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable.” With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes — Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.

By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world’s top scientists. “Our future,” Lovelock writes, “is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail.”

Doh!

But surely we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid this terrible, terrible fate. Lovelock says, no, it’s too late:

And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won’t save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won’t make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. “Green,” he tells me, only half-joking, “is the color of mold and corruption.”

Ouch! Though I don’t think green is the color of corruption — not sure why he says that. And mold comes in many colors. Green is the color of moss and jealousy, but I guess that isn’t negative enough.

Anyway, I don’t agree with Lovelock’s projected impacts this century (it won’t be THAT severe that fast and humans are more resilient than he believes) nor do I agree it is too late to avoid the worst, but it is definitely much later than people think. I don’t think the engines are about to fail, but the ship’s out-dated coal-fired boilers may be about to blow if they don’t get replaced by the next President with something much, much cleaner….

Tags:

« »

38 Responses to James Lovelock turns everyone into a climate optimist

  1. Optimist says:

    On the positive side the price of property in rural parts of the northern hemisphere will go up. Oh…

  2. Ronald says:

    Every crisis has the interesting individual. Edmund Teller, who developed the H-bomb was quite the advocate for it, he thought that it would solve so many problems. Dr. Strangelove who was fictional and I can’t remember if it were based on Teller, would be telling us now about the shelter gap and rush to Antarctica and make the deal with Canada to populate the northland.

  3. David says:

    “By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace.”

    Aren’t droughts and extreme weather already commonplace? Haven’t droughts and extreme weather been commonplace since, well, forever?

    “… and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad.”

    Don’t people live in Baghdad just fine today? Haven’t people lived in Baghdad just fine for many centuries?

    In 1973, a movie called Soylent Green was made. It presented a very dark, hopeless, and depressing view of how the world would be in 2022. I have no doubt that 15 years from now, the world will look nothing like the world depicted in the film. I’m pretty sure that in 2040, James Lovelock’s predictions will be just as laughable.

  4. Earl Killian says:

    Lovelock is suffering from binary thinking. The question is not whether it is too late or not too late (a binary choice). It is late (a continuous variable), but the sooner we start doing something about the problem, the less problematic will be the consequences. Even if the consequences were as terrible as Lovelock suggests, it would be worse still to continue with business as usual.

  5. caerbannog says:


    “… and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad.”

    Don’t people live in Baghdad just fine today? Haven’t people lived in Baghdad just fine for many centuries?

    Lovelock predictions are extreme, and I’m not going to vouch for them here. But the above statement is just plain stupid. Baghdad has existed for centuries in a hot climate; its infrastructure and population are acclimated/adapted as well as possible to that climate.

    Berlin, a Northern European city has a population/infrastructure adapted to a much cooler climate. Shifting Berlin’s climate to Baghdad’s in a few decades (as unlikely as that might be), would be a disaster for Berlin. The population of Berlin, unlike that of Baghdad, has *not* had centuries to figure out how to deal with a hot climate.

    If you can’t figure out why shifting a major city from a cool climate to a hot one might be much more problematic for its residents than having a large city develop over centuries in a stable, hot climate, then you are about as well informed as your average AGW denier.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    I hate to put it this way, but on what, exactly, does Lovelock base these scary and very precise predictions? On other words, is this the result of modeling and scientific analysis, or is it just a PIDOOMA (pulled it directly out of my a**)?

    Frankly, I’m very tired of the barrage of predictions we get based on a whole lot of nothing, whether it’s the cornucopians telling is oil won’t peak for another 50 years, or the Apocalypticons spouting gloom and doom about GW or peak oil every chance they can manufacture.

    We’re facing some extremely serious problems on the energy and environmental fronts, problems that will severely test our flexibility and ingenuity. There will be a lot of human pain involved, and even more economic impact as we make the needed transitions to lower oil, lower emissions ways of doing everything. But I have zero doubt we’ll do it.

  7. Cliff says:

    It must be acknowledged that Lovelock has been paying attention to this stuff and to trends – scientific and societal – for a long, long time. He’s not a kook who just wandered into the studio to rant incoherently. He may be predicting the extreme to get us off our asses, and he may believe every word he said. I don’t know him, personally. But I do see that many of the predictions based on science are coming true before their forecasted dates. Undeniable evidence of climate change? Evidence of human intervention? Who really knows. Lay down your bets, ladies and gents.

  8. Ron says:

    I must say I have been influenced in my thinking by Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis; it’s a really cool, new-agey vision that may, in fact, have some scientific basis. I have found echoes of his ideas in Lewis Thomas’s excellent essays, as well. I like the idea of a superorganism, self-regulating, with humans as a part of the whole. But let’s face it: that’s not really science as much as quasi-religion.

    And what bothers me about the Rolling Stone piece is how they have now elevated him to status of Prophet in the AGW religion – Well maybe ‘bothers’ isn’t the right word at all. I get sarcastic glee from seeing this. This really is a new religion.

    I especially enjoyed the photo in the print edition showing him with hands clasped as if in prayer and the caption “Father Gaia”.

    But let’s look at his hypothesis for a moment. If we are part of a superorganism, how is what we are doing to be regarded as anything less than natural, simply a part of the system? It seems to me he has come in his old age to the New Religion & pop culture idea of Man as a virus on the Earth. That’s not only non-scientific, but in some ways refutes his own earlier hypothesis.

    I like to think humans have a more important place in the system.

    Here’s a funny quote form the article:

    ——Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, credits Lovelock with inspiring him to pledge billions of dollars to fight global warming. “Jim is a brilliant scientist who has been right about many things in the past,” Branson says. “If he’s feeling gloomy about the future, it’s important for mankind to pay attention.”

    Let’s all sit up and take notice because the Prophet is ‘feeling gloomy’. Too funny!

    And this:

    ——His step is jaunty, his mind lively, his manner anything but gloomy. In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen — war, famine, pestilence and death — seems to perk him up. ”

    This isn’t just poor journalism. It’s an example of the fine art of propaganda. A piece destined to be included in AGW scripture. And to many environmentalists, the ‘news’ that 6 billion people are doomed is cause for celebration.

    I know you are not one of those, Joe, but even so your credibility rests on a coming catstrophe; if it doesn’t come soon, history will forget you. You’ll be ashamed to put on your resume that you used to be a paid blogger for the AGW religion.

    If we are going to lay down bets, the best hedging we could do would be along the lines of what Paul K. says – (I think I’m paraphrasing reasonably well) work to clean up the environment and get us away from oil dependence, but back off from this rather silly AGW thing.

  9. I grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee just after World War II. I have been aware all of my life of what the World War II generation accomplished. The Manhattan Project, of which Oak Ridge was a part was a tremendous accomplishment. The total American war effort was a far greater accomplishment. Right now we are not ready for a World War II style epic struggle to change our world, but we are getting there. Awareness and feelings of urgency are growing. My own assessment is that the total effort to control CO2 emissions, would be considerably less, and will require less sacrifce than the World War II, war effort. It will be is we are smart, and are willing to accept dramatic but rational choices. In particular “greens” are going to have to give up their irrational objection to nuclear power. Greens, your choice is clear, either 6 billion dead from global warming. or dealing with the supposed problem of nuclear waste.

  10. David says:

    “The population of Berlin, unlike that of Baghdad, has *not* had centuries to figure out how to deal with a hot climate.”

    I would argue that they don’t need centuries. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe at some point in human history, lots of people who were indigenous to Germany decided to pack up all their belongings and relocate themselves to places that were much warmer. Now what was the name of that place? Oh yeah. Israel. Of course that’s a bad example because Israel is nothing like Baghdad and I’m sure none of those people or their children survived the transition.

  11. AN says:

    Joe,

    could you please give your comments on the solutions discussed on this meeting? thanks!

    http://www.energy.iastate.edu/becon/downloadNH3/AmmoniaMtg07.html

  12. caerbannog says:


    I would argue that they don’t need centuries. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe at some point in human history, lots of people who were indigenous to Germany decided to pack up all their belongings and relocate themselves to places that were much warmer. Now what was the name of that place?

    Let me remind you that I said population *and* infrastructure.

    There’s a huge difference between people packing up and moving to a new climate and having a new climate move to a major metropolitan area whose infrastructure is not adapted to that climate. Much of Northern Europe relies on Alps snowpack for its water supply during the summer. What happens when that disappers and water supplies for entire cities dry up? Power plants (especially nuclear power plants) rely on ample quantities of cool water for cooling. What happens when the cooling water becomes too scarce and warm? During the 2003 heat-wave, France had to shut down nuclear power plants because the river water they used became too warm.

    BTW, the climate in Israel is nowhere near as severe as that in Baghdad.
    Google up some historical temperature stats and see for yourself.

  13. Shannon says:

    I thought Lovelock’s book on the Gaia hypothesis had some merits but was embarrassing in the way a romance novel is an embarrassment when juxtaposed with a science textbook. It’s obvious he cares a lot and for that I give him credit. But he does not know the outcome of this crisis; nobody does.

  14. Jeff Goodell says:

    I’m the author of the Rolling Stone profile of Lovelock. Glad to see the article provoking debate on one of my favorite blogs.

    Shannon: you’re right, Lovelock’s first book has embarrassing passages. But have you looked at his later work? “Ages of Gaia,” which he wrote in the late 1980s, is much better and more scientifically rigorous. One of the interesting and refreshing things about Lovelock is that he is happy to admit his mistakes and revise/refine his thinking, as he has done in subsequent books about Gaia.

    Ron: the charge that Lovelock’s thinking was “quasi-religious” (tho I’m not sure what that means) was often leveled at him back in the 1970s, but as I said above, he’s refined his ideas a lot since then. Have you read anything recently? To my knowledge, no one has ever questioned the rigor or accuracy of Lovelock’s grasp of science. Indeed, he’s proved his brilliance over and over. It’s his extrapolations that get him into trouble. But when it comes to global warming, it’s Lovelock’s basic view is that scientists have become far too timid in how they talk about what’s at stake here — that they say things to each other that they won’t dare say in public. Is it a positive, hopeful, Oprah-like vision of the future that we can all rally around? No. Is he reckless? Sure. He freely admits — as I wrote in the piece — that he might be wrong. But he feels that the careful, qualified statements by the vast majority of scientists have failed to communicate what’s at stake here. And judging from your remark about “the silly AGW thing,” he’s right.

  15. IANVS says:

    Well, Dr. Lovelock certainly does have a way of making Dr. James Hansen look right of center.

    But how many would be living in Baghdad if the twin rivers dry up from lack of snowfall on Mt. Ararat & the Taurus Mountains?

    And how many of us will be laughing in 2100?

  16. IANVS says:

    Jeff,

    Don’t give Ron no mind. He’s our token resident DDDenialist. Every blog should have one.

  17. IANVS says:

    Charles Barton,

    That’s some very sobering history. It took Pearl Harbor to get us into WWII. I sure hope we don’t need another catastrophic loss of life for us to get serious about combatting AGW.

    Apparently, Katrina wasn’t enough.

  18. IANVS says:

    BTW, the surest way to get from 6.6 billion to 500 million souls in less than 93 years in Thermonuclear War. Pakistan & India, China & North Korean & Russia, Israel & Iran.

    You don’t need Lovelock to make you feel gloomy. A few hours of FOX NEWS will do just fine.

  19. Paul K says:

    Joe,
    You’ve now identified the two extremes of AGW. On one end is Senator Imhofe. It’s a hoax with an implication of fraudulent intent. On the other is Lovelock. It is out of our hands. Our grandchildren will have no children.
    Jeff Goodell,
    When exaggeration and purposeful recklessness are necessary to convince me of something, I tend to stay unconvinced. There is a strong element of “the people are too stupid to get it” in Lovelock.
    AN,
    I too hope Joe will check out your very interesting alternative fuel link.

  20. Ron says:

    Jeff,

    It’s not that I have a problem with the Gaia hypothesis because it’s ‘quasi-religious’ – I think I made it fairly clear that in many ways I like Lovelock’s ideas – I’m just saying it’s very important to clearly differentiate between faith and science.

    The hypothesis that Man’s contribution of greenhouse gases is heating up the planet and that catastrophe is imminent is just that: a hypothesis. Not a full-fledged theory and certainly not a rigorously established scientific fact. But pointing that out to the Believers is like asking a Muslim or a Christian how they know for sure that their scriptures are really the Word of God.

    And I notice you didn’t argue about my statements that this really is a new religion and your piece was propaganda. At least we can agree on that much I guess.

  21. AN says:

    Paul K,

    “those who know, don’t talk, those who talk, don’t know” — Laozi, who was “forced” to write down his words (

  22. AN says:

    the last comment was cut short because of a symbol i used in typing, the rest:

    less than 5000 in all) before he was allowed to ride his ox out into no man’s land to disappear some 3500 years ago. the answers to the fundamental questions, to which the issues we have been debating over are mere superficial ones, are all in there. though no one has been able to translate it correctly so far, you can nevertheless get a glimpse or two.

  23. danny bloom says:

    google search or wiki search for the term “polar cities” and then read my blog. by 2500, we will need, maybe, polar cities to house survivors of glo war. my song is here too

    Global Warming (song): “How On Earth”
    ….over at dailymotion.com, you can hear this song i wrote, HOW ON
    EARTH, or visit my YOUTUBE link here.

    with a POLAR CITIES blog
    http://climatechange3000.blogspot.com

    care to blog on my idea, pro or con? just to get people talking about it? try!

    my global warming song here, feel free to put up a link to it on your
    site below your own glo war song.

    http://www.dailymotion.com/songsterhiragana/video/x398cu_global-warming-song-how-on-earth

    cheers
    DANNY BLOOM

  24. John says:

    Jeff is right about the degree rigor in Lovelock’s Gaia hyptheses — it’s gone steadily up and its broad outlines are generally accepted in the scientific community.

    I offer one observation about Lovelock’s work in relationship to his predictions on global warming.

    Our models have consistently underestimated the magnitude and rate of climate forcing resulting from human activity. The main reason for this is that we have consistently failed to account for self-reinforcing positive feedbacks in the overall system (which, in this case have very negative consequences).

    Lovelock’s Gaia is all about systems theory applied at a planetary scale. He is a pioneer in uncovering, observing, integrating and understanding feedbacks in the global geobiosphere and his hypothesis has advanced to theory in many people’s mind.

    My point is, this guy understands — perhaps better than anyone — the exact phenomena that has confounded our forecasting.

    I don’t pretend to know enough to pronounce him right or wrong. But I do believe it would behoove us to listen to him, and take action to avoid the worst of his predictions.

    The best thing we could do would be to prove him wrong, and it will take an endeavor that is unprecedented in human annals to do so.

    The worst thing we could do would be to igore him, while we ponder whether AGW is a theory or hypothesis (it’s a full fledged theory, by the way and moving quickly toward fact).

    It’s time to quit arguing semantic irrelevancies and get busy and save the world.

  25. David says:

    “There’s a huge difference between people packing up and moving to a new climate and having a new climate move to a major metropolitan area whose infrastructure is not adapted to that climate.”

    Easy. Just re-engineer the infrastructure to work with the new climate. In enough time, it can be done. Climate doesn’t change overnight. It takes decades. Sometimes centuries. Las Vegas, NV went from an unremarkable speck in the middle of the desert to a thriving city that supports over half a million people in less than 60 years.

    “Much of Northern Europe relies on Alps snowpack for its water supply during the summer. What happens when that disappers and water supplies for entire cities dry up?”

    Get water from the oceans. Ever hear of a desalination plant?

    “Power plants (especially nuclear power plants) rely on ample quantities of cool water for cooling. What happens when the cooling water becomes too scarce and warm?”

    Create power plants that don’t required water to cool them.

    “During the 2003 heat-wave, France had to shut down nuclear power plants because the river water they used became too warm.”

    And they turned them all back on again when the heat wave went away. What’s your point?

  26. Ron says:

    Just some food for thought. James Lovelock on the state of modern science, from “The Ages of Gaia” —

    —–Where are the independent scientists? In fact, nearly all scientists are employed by some large organization, such as a governmental department, a university, or a multinational company. Only rarely are they free to express their science as a personal view. They may think that they are free, but in reality they are, nearly all of them, employees; they have traded freedom of thought for good working conditions, a steady income, tenure, and a pension.

    They are also constrained by an army of bureaucratic forces, from the funding agencies to the health and safety organizations. Scientists are also constrained by the tribal rules of the discipline to which they belong. A physicist would find it hard to do chemistry and a biologist would find physics well-nigh impossible to do. To cap it all, in recent years the “purity” of science is ever more closely guarded by a self-imposed inquisition called the peer review.

    This well-meaning but narrow-minded nanny of an institution ensures that scientists work according to conventional wisdom and not as curiosity or inspiration moves them. Lacking freedom they are in danger of succumbing to a finicky gentility or of becoming, like medieval theologians, the creatures of dogma. —–

  27. John says:

    David:

    I’m not sure if your reply was serious, but let’s look at your answers:

    “Re-engineering a major city” — easy. Really? At a minimum, it would cost a great deal. Now multiply that times more than 300 mega cities. Still seem “easy?” and if so, where does the money come from, and what other things will we have to leave undone to fund it? Crime prevention, roads, education, health care, research and development, private capital investments in other areas? We’re not exactly excelling at these things now.

    The rest of your “simple” fixes are similarly expensive and in some cases, more akin to science fiction than solutions. “Create” power plants that don’t need cooling? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet the bank — or the future — on it.

    And while I’ve always agreed that in a world where 70% of the surface is covered with water, water shortages would be solvable it’s a solution that would come at great expense. Building the infrastructure to desalinate, and transport water will be extremely expensive, and at the scale we would need to do it, it would likely have devastating consequences in near shore environments. With 9 billion people, we’d generate billions of tons of salt a month, for starters.

    And while you cavalierly say France simply turned the power plants back on after the heat wave was over, you must remember, when the temperature increase is permanent there will be no “over,” and therefore the shutdown would also be permanent.

    I have tremendous faith in our ability to solve a problem — no matter how immense — once we recognize it. And it is evident that you do too.

    What confuses me is why you insist that we put that effort off to future generations, who will incurr greater costs and who will inevtiably have lost some very valuable things forever because of our selfishness.

    It would be far more rational to take that can do attitude and apply it to solutions today to avoid future problems. Even if you buy into the uncertainty mantra deniers hold onto, prevention is still the most rational choice.

    If you are 40 or under, or if you have kids or plan to, or if you simply care about the future, Climate is a simple variation of Pascal’s wager — still one of the great statements of decisionmaking in the face of uncertainty. The only rational response to the possibility of a changing climate is to act as if you believe, even if you don’t.

  28. Cogon grass is going to take over Atlanta, not kudzu. Kudzu is tame compared to cogon grass in the invasive department, and kudzu is a million times more useful than cogon grass, although someone mentioned a Uganda recipe for the rhizome (Mississippi).

    Kudzu is making ozone. I gave up my car, and lots of people are, too. An example fo the changes in the world, if instead of going to the Grand Canyon for site seeing tours, we went to the dump (think Darwin’s Nightmare) we would see that not using plastic bags for the rest of our lives, and not using plastic diapers, sanitary napkins, bottles, etc. for the rest or our lives, would not take away the one dump among how many world wide. Just how many dumps are there in this world? How can we change our dumps?

  29. http://www.kudzus.blogspot.com

    I have a few pictures and recipes and some science but mainly questions on this site.

  30. Andrew Friedberg says:

    Jeff:

    I enjoyed your article. I had to read it twice, as in the beginning I came across this paragraph shift:

    “Lovelock knows that predicting the end of civilization is not an exact science. ‘I could be wrong about all this,’ he admits as we stroll around the park in Norway. ‘The trouble is, all those well-intentioned scientists who are arguing that we’re not in any imminent danger are basing their arguments on computer models. I’m basing mine on what’s actually happening.’

    When you approach Lovelock’s house in Devon, a rural area in southwestern England, the sign on the metal gate reads …”

    I immediately skimmed past a third of the article to the end to find out his qualifications for possibly the most pessimistic, and horror-filled, assertions I have ever read. It was as if I had just read the sentence: “Dr. James Lovelock says we’re all doomed, you, your wives and husbands, your children, and your friends, absolutely doomed. There is no hope, don’t even try. Kill yourselves today.

    Dr. Lovelock was born in England in the late twenties …”

    I just thought it was an odd time to change the subject of the article to this guy’s life story. But when I finished the article I re-read the earlier sections on his life ad found them interesting.

    Over all though, I think that Lovelock is either a brilliant thinker on the level of Einstein or Newton, or as irresponsible a thinker as there has ever been.

    To suggest that close to the whole of the leading scientific thinking on a certain subject is wrong is as incredible a moment as Einstein’s first essays on electro-dynamics, or Newton’s first publications on basic physics. For him to be correct, he must be as ahead of his time as they were of theirs.

    I was also a little weirded out by his giddiness when discussing this issue, and his suggestion that those who survive this massive death and human immolation will find it “exciting.” Hmmm … well I guess scientists see things differently than the rest of us. I’ve read Night by Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, and I don’t recall him discussing the Holocaust as exciting.

    Either way, I would have liked a bit of discussion with this idea. At the end of the article you quote a few sciency people who say that Lovelock is over-estimating, or that he is perhaps a bit off, but no real discussion takes place with his major assertions. You even mention that Gould and Dawkins laughed at the Gaia models decades ago, but don’t discuss any of the alternative models or even the modern scientists who disagree with him. You also fail to mention that he has changed his mind on how horrible it will be for us all a few times, including September of this year …
    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/energyEnvironment/Lovelock_Respect_the_Earth_060709.shtml

    I would have enjoyed some of the dissenting ideas. Because if we are all totally screwed, it would be nice to indulge in some delusions of a future for my unborn children that doesn’t involve igloo building, war-lording, and people eating.

  31. Jeff Goodell says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. A few points, briefly: Lovelock doesn’t believe that the scientific establishment is “wrong” about global warming — it’s just that, in his view, they haven’t grasped the full picture of what’s going on, nor the implications of those changes. He talks often about how compartmentalized modern science has become, about how scientists know more and more about less and less. He also talks frequently about how afraid many scientists are afraid to speak out — say anything too controversial and they fear they’ll be marginalized, lose their jobs, etc. Obviously, there are exceptions to this — Jim Hansen, for example. (a scientist whom Lovelock has much respect for).

    As for the lack of substantive analysis of Lovelock’s views, this is a tricky balance to strike. I too would have liked a little more room for more detail, and early drafts indeed included it. If you want to know more, I suggest you read Lovelock’s latest book, The Revenge of Gaia. And there is a good scientific critique of the book on Real Climate (www.realclimate.org) Also, I quote Wally Broecker in the story — a highly respected paleoclimatologist — as saying that Lovelock’s view that it’s too late to cut emissions is “dangerous nonsense.”

    Finally, just a word about Lovelock’s sense that this dark future he imagines will be “exciting.” One of the things I may have failed to communicate in the piece is Lovelock’s particularly British wit. I don’t mean to say that he thinks this is all a joke. Far from it. To Lovelock, “exciting” does not mean “fun”; it means something closer to “vividly alive.”

  32. Andrew Friedberg says:

    I guess I was a bit sensitive to the whole “giddiness” aspect of the article. It reminded me of one of my freshman Bio classes in which my professor, Lynn Miller, discussed Gould, Dawkins and Daniel Dennett’s assertions that altruism was (for lack of a better term) a “fake” with absolute glee. Miller ultimately disagreed with the selfish gene, but the whole notion of a relatable personality trait to nature really got him going. Even if it was a bit fatalistic.

    So I guess I can understand Lovelock’s point of view as coming from more of an objective stance on the whole thing.

    I do plan to pick up the book, but like most Americans, this article is the first I ever heard of Lovelock, except for a brief mention in an article a few months back on Gore, also from Rolling stone.

    The really difficult thing about this hypothesis is that the average person feels basically helpless. Lovelock isn’t saying that we need to change our ways, he’s saying that we need to batten down the hatches and prepare for retribution. Single-ply toilet paper, hybrids, and light bulbs aren’t gonna do the trick. If a solution comes, it will be on the scale of a giant mirror, or sulfuric airplanes, or cloud yachts, or something along those lines. It’s also unfortunate that Lovelock will inevitably have to deal with being shot as the messenger on this, regardless of how right or wrong he is, even if he is trying to save everybody and not simply to scare everybody. But that’s difficult to understand from the perspective of a layman.

    Now I’d love 25 million bucks, and I would especially love to save the world, but sadly I don’t think I got the mustard for this one. My best idea so far involves a big net filled with teeny tiny holes, but that probably isn’t exactly practical.

    Thanks for the sites and info, I’ll check them out, and I hope that I’ll stumble on something a bit more hopeful.

  33. danny bloom says:

    one word: two:

    POLAR CITIES, google or wiki it.

    http://climatechange3000.blogspot.com

    Why isn’t anybody talking about them? Only me?

  34. Terence says:

    I am delighted that Lovelock has spoken on this issue. It is quite true that the scientists have been much too qualified in their statements. Privately they will all concede things are worse, but they are afraid of the deniers, right wing politicans, and the consequences that these people can bring down on them in terms of their institutes and jobs.

    The great thing about Lovelock is that he has a good systems wide knowledge and is able to see the big picture and connect it. This issue, all with the ongoing ecological destruction happening globally is way too important not to consider and take very seriously Lovelock’s and others people’s views on things. For example, the ice-core record does show dramatic melting of the ice-sheets in the past and rapid rises in temperate. This time around, things are truly fecked up in advance with the result that much of the slack or resilence of the system is critically damaged.

    I really hate this never ending optimism that people have, especially those critical of Lovelock’s statement that it maybe too late, because in every other debate on everything, from climate, to peak oil, to population, to oceans to ecosystems, we are always told there is just enough time to change. This is simply wrong. There is already huge damage, huge changes, massive deforestation, massive destruction (eg. of global fisheries), widespread pollution and so on. Why can’t people accept this is the case already?

    Thus, Lovelock is right, humanity needs to essentially go on a war footing as it were. We must declare a global emergency immediately and do everything in our power to salvage the situation.

    I think a few good ideas for things that could be done right away, without inventing anything or selling more product, would be to boost and make public transport in every major town and city in the world, free, immediately. This would allow significant reductions in CO-2 right away. Another idea would be for all countries, to being a national programme to install solar water heaters on every building/house and retrofit for insulation, -well in northern latitude countries anyhow. In terms of the global ecosystem, we would need to halt any further destruction of tropical rainforests and reduce farmland back to wild land. People should be encouraged to eat far less meat, thereby reducing the pressure on the need to grow food, since it tables 10kg of grains to grow 1kg of meat. It doesn’t mean becoming vegetarians, but just reducing the quantity. This would allow more of the marginal farmlands to be returned to forest and so help draw down CO-2, and rebuild the CO-2 sinks. Other simple ideas would be to close down the least efficient power stations in terms of CO-2 output. This would mean closing ones burning peat, brown coal and the like.

    These measures would and should only be the start. There are millions of others who I am sure have other good ideas. And lastly we should harness the fact that there are actually billions of people so that they can physically go out and physically do stuff in their environment to repair it and thereby rebuild some of the resilence of the system.

  35. Terence says:

    Oops, sentence above should read:
    I think a few good ideas that could be done right away, without inventing….

  36. danny bloom says:

    Jeff Goodell, is there any way to contact you by email?

    danny

  37. Aldhun says:

    It always strikes me as hysterically funny that people argue frantically about whether James Lovelock is right or wrong; whether Global Warming is real and dangerous or just a scientific fantasy. As if James Lovelock
    was a man pacing the streets with a placard. James Lovelock is, and was, a plausible scientist, supported, to varying degrees, by many thousands of other scientists the world over. Seems to me that in this situation we really only have two choices: The first is that we can ignore the warnings and hope desperately that they are wrong and the second is that we can act upon them and pray it is not too late for the majority of us. To ACT on the warnings means we will quickly have to create new green technologies (jobs) and new green products (more jobs) and reduce our reliance on Middle Eastern fossil fuels amoungst many other things. If we do NOT act on these warnings we can carry on as we are; growing the world’s population at 6 million per month and running the world economy in the same way as we always have.

    If James Lovelock is completely wrong then we will have created millions of new jobs in many brand new industries and a lot of improved new high tech products and a massive amount of new clean energy which we can create ourselves (sounds horrifying doesn’t it). If Lovelock is RIGHT then we will have done all that we can at this late stage. This is the basic argument put forward as ‘Pascal’s Wager’

    And do bear in mind, you sceptics out there, EVEN George Bush finally accepted that Global Warming was real and a serious threat – do you not think that should be telling you something !