Lovelock: Malthus was right, and Climate Progress is way, way too optimistic

gaia.jpgOkay, famed scientist James Lovelock didn’t say that second part. But the Daily Mail headline of a recent interview with the creator of the Gaia theory makes clear that this blog is can hardly be accused of real climate alarmism:

We’re all doomed! 40 years from global catastrophe – and there’s NOTHING we can do about it, says climate change expert.

Why he thinks we’re doomed:

“It was last as hot as this 55 million years ago. There was a geological accident in the North Sea, near where Norway is. A volcanic layer of lava came up underneath one of the large petroleum deposits. It vaporised the whole lot, putting into the atmosphere about two million, million tons of crude oil.

“We will have put that much into the atmosphere within the next 20 years or so. We know what happened last time, we know how long it lasted. It hung around for about 200,000 years….”

“Everything moved to the North,” Lovelock explains. “The Arctic Ocean was tropical, the sea temperature was 23C (73F). You could find the remains of crocodiles in the sediments.”

[Jim — you forgot to mention sea levels were 250 feet higher!]

As for what will happen to humankind:

We will face a ruthless period of natural selection.

“I reckon there are about 80 per cent more people than the world can carry,” he says sanguinely….

“By 2040, China will be uninhabitable.” Lovelock believes that the Chinese, because of their high levels of industrial activity, will be the first to suffer, with the death of all plant life.

“So I think the Chinese will go to Africa. They are already there, preparing a new continent – the Chinese industrialists who claim to be out there mining minerals are just there on a pretext of preparing for the big move.

Okay, so now you’re thinking he’s a crackpot. But then he appeals to your vanity:

Lovelock sees Americans moving to Canada. Americans have the natural advantage of being born migrants….

“White Americans are descended from those who had the guts to cross on rough old ships and find a new life. They have the right spirit of can-do.”

Hmm. Interesting sentiment. Guess he’s not an Obama-maniac. Europeans, however, have got it all wrong:

“European governments are doing daft things, investing huge sums in renewable energy which makes a hell of a lot of profit but does no good at all for our survival.”

No greenie, he. In fact, in an earlier interview he said:

“Green,” he tells me, only half-joking, “is the color of mold and corruption.”

But don’t feel bad, humanity. We were probably doomed all along:

We have to stop thinking it is all our fault. We could have stopped it if we had all listened to Malthus in 1800 (the economist who said population would outstrip agricultural supply).

“Everyone laughed at him, but he was right. A billion is about the right number of people for the Earth. We are nearly seven billion. Had we stayed at a billion we could have done whatever we liked with technology and there would have been no problem.”

Still, he remains as hopeful as a person can possibly be with predicting the grim death of 6 billion people:

We are about to take an evolutionary step and my hope is that the species will emerge stronger. It would be hubris to think humans as they now are God’s chosen race.”

No one can accuse the scientist of the Apocalypse of being gloomy.

I must try to learn from Lovelock (and Monty Python, especially on this Easter weekend) — always look on the bright side of death life.

[More seriously, Lovelock is certainly wrong. It is definitely not too late. If everyone on the planet believed what he believes, or even what Hansen believes, we could easily keep CO2 concentrations well below 450 ppm and, if we had to, ultimately back to below 350 ppm. It is all just a matter of political will. And renewables are most certainly a large part of the answer.]


23 Responses to Lovelock: Malthus was right, and Climate Progress is way, way too optimistic

  1. Mr.Mom says:

    Well Ive felt this way for awhile now anyway. Anyone who takes a close look at nature and the current state of the human race could figure this out.
    Best to teach your offspring on basic survival strategies. Give them a little edge on natural selection.

  2. JCH says:

    I don’t know why people assume the Canadians are going to allow us crude Americans to just waltz in and take over their beautiful country. I think the Mounties will redirect our wagon trains to the south.

  3. Uosdwis says:

    I wouldn’t pin our hopes on “political will,” at least in America.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    During the PETM event 55 million years ago no large mammals survived.

    Large is defined as adult weight greater than 8 kg, maybe only 2 kg.

    Based on that, the last remnant of humanity is also doomed.

  5. Joe says:

    Well, we are more adaptable than any other mammal — for better or for worse.

  6. exusian says:

    JCH, if push came to shove and the US set its sights on Canadian resources, say the tar sands, or potentially even more critical, water, or on Canadian territory, say any areas still suitable for growing grain as climate zones shift northwards, legal and diplomatic niceties won’t count for much. And given that the population of Canada is around one tenth the size of the US, and it’s armed forces much smaller still, I hardly think Canada would be able to resist for long. Then again, Finland was able to hold out against the USSR.

  7. Pangolin says:

    Note to self: build 6 ft. long barbecue, stock up on molasses, sugar, dried tomatoes, dried garlic, new mexico chile powder, vinegar. Build very large rodent trap w/Budwieser bait system.

    Ok, I’m prepared.

    Actually I think Lovelock is wrong. Not about the rapidity of the climate shift (google:”faster than expected”) but about the willingness or capability of humans to do something about it.

    Before the climate shifts 1/2 the way to that 200 ft. sea level change panicked governments will do drastic things. One of those drastic things could be to find a source of limestone adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and nuke it into very fine dust. The resulting fallout would pretty much Chernobyl the Southern Hemisphere but as we are learning in the Ukraine that works out great for livestock. For critters planning on living to a ripe old age of three-score and ten that average could be halved.

    Put enough dust into the atmosphere things WILL cool down. As we have seen before panicky governments are prone to do drastic things. Patagonia being relatively unoccupied and near the required mineral-deprived ocean is the logical target. If hydrogen bombs aren’t sufficiently strong there’s always the option of borrowing an asteroid and tossing it at the desired land mass. The technology isn’t impossible, just very, very, very risky.

    Another very drastic thing could be to spend 20 years or so cooking any non-food agricultural output into charcoal and burying that in the soil. This would require draconian interference into the worlds agricultural systems but it has been demonstrated that biochar, particularly in poor soil, easily doubles the carbon content of the soil in which it is added. That would be every leaf, branch, stalk, twig, vine or flake of bark that humans could collect without cutting living, perennial, growth. A WWII type effort involving the entire human race and permanently changing soils and ecosystems. It would require more forethought and cooperation than tossing nukes or rocks so it is a relatively unlikely option.

    The concept that we are going to quit burning fossil fuels in time to prevent the out-gassing of methane from Siberian and Canadian permafrost is laughable. Humans are not good at cutting their losses and running when “it seems like a good idea at the time.” WWI and the Iraq war are ample evidence of that.

    Two things that you can count on not happening are a planned stable powerdown and no last-minute, panic, geo-engineering. it’s probability zero on those options.

  8. Alex J says:

    I’m curious what makes Lovelock a true “climate change expert”. He’s at least dabbled in atmospheric chemistry, but from what I’ve read his PhD is in medicine (unless he has more than one). The climatology community seems rather concerned about the state of things, but not quite as fatalistic as Lovelock. He may be used as an example of extremism (or as a convenient excuse) by those who seek to stifle any real progress on mitigation.

  9. JCH says:

    When SLR hits 100′ (and the point at which the situation is irreversible is probably a lot less than 100′) is there, short of some fantastic technological advancement, anything they could do to prevent their watching it ebb up to its total potential elevation?

    The ocean is not like a serene lake. It’s like an amphibious assault force. It has amazing power. We don’t know that because our coastlines have had thousands of years to reach a fortress-like equilibrium. Give those oceans one more meter and they are going to terrorize the coastline. Two meters is unthinkably destructive. Our progeny are not going to be able to build seawalls capable of dealing with the sorts of SLR that are on the table. You can kiss America’s coastal cities goodbye. The scuba sightseeing is going to be fantastic – goin’ down to Wall Street to see the fishes.

  10. Danny Bloom says:

    Joe, you think YOUR BLOG gets accused of real climate alarmism — you should see what my POLAR CITIES blog gets accused of!


    And the fact that Sir James Lovelock (he should be knighted is my opinion) has seen my polar city blueprints and said “Yes, it may very well happen and soon” really puts the accusations of CA in focus. SMILE!

    RE: “the Daily Mail headline of a recent interview with [lovelock] makes clear that this blog is can hardly be accused of real climate alarmism…”

    I am still waiting for you to blog one day on my polar cities “thought experiment”, because like you, I also feel that ” it is definitely not too late. …..we could easily keep CO2 concentrations well below 450 ppm and, if we had to, ultimately back to below 350 ppm. It is all just a matter of political will. And renewables are most certainly a large part of the answer.”

    First Decca Aitkenhead fo the Guarian, now Sarah Sands for the Daily Mail. What’s with these British interviewers? Can’t they write a good article without submitting to the whims of the headline writers in the home office?

  11. Danny Bloom says:

    Correction. Atmic typo above post. No dot after 101. Now is. OK

  12. David B. Benson says:

    James Lovelock is rather old by now. I shouldn’t put too much credence in his forecasts.

    Unless, of course, we keep on with BAU. Somewhere there is a forecast that China alone will match the entire rest of the world in CO2 production by 2030 CE at current rates of increase.

  13. Paul K says:

    Could the WWII effort against CO2 that some advocate eventually require the bombing of Chinese power plants?

  14. Joe says:

    Funny. No bombing. But their may be a trade war over this….

  15. Danny Bloom says:

    Jeez, someone said BOMB CHINESE POWER PLANTS? Never even thought about that wake up call, until just now, and Joe’s comment after the post. Ouch. But you know, funny and unfunny as that comment is…

    “Could the WWII effort against CO2 that some advocate eventually require the bombing of Chinese power plants?”

    if as Sir Lovelock says this is like 1939 and the beginning of WWII in the UK, in his mind, which he said he rather enjoyed, especially, the nurses, then the off the cuff remark about bombing Chinese power plants just work its way into Late Night comedy routines on USA tv shows soon. But no, no bombing. Just for Leno and Letterman jokes.

    The trade war has already begun, and guess who is winning…….? Power if shifting eastward, to China and India, and the CO2 levels will only go up and up as the planet twirls its way toward …..i hate to say this …

    possible…..extinction of the human species. As the Hitch said, So Long and thanks for the fish!

    meanwhile, Joe, i guess you are NOT ever going to mention or blog about polar cities, not in this lifetime. Am I reading you right? If so, I will stop pestering you on this light hearted issue…. If you are going to mention polar cities, just once, pro or con, WHEN? When Hell freezes over? Or when Hell and High Water freeze over? Test the waters, man!

  16. can we have more specifics on how to get levels back below 350 ppm?

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Peter Sinclair — I gave a sketch of one plan in the comments of the Hansen-350 thread, back several, but not too far to easily locate.

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    David Benson’s biocoal comment

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Anna Haynes — Thanks. I don’t know how to do that!

  20. marianne birkby says:

    Lovelock has done more than most for the climate- in his 1970’s book ‘Gaia’ (or ‘Replacing Mother Earth with false greek godess’ ) he berated ecologists for delaying the Alaskan oil pipe line and persuaded many that pollution is as natural as cow dung in a “business as usual” attitude to the environment. Now he is berating indigenous people who don’t want further uranium mining – in the 2008 version of “business as usual”

  21. Paul K says:

    David B. Benson,
    Do you not know how to add links to comments? It is easy to use simple html “tags” but a bit of a pain to explain. Start by typing a left pointing caret located on the comma key. Then type a href=”” followed by a right pointing caret located on the period key. I’d show you what it looks like but it would show up as a link so instead of carets I’ll use brackets to demonstrate.
    [a href=””]. Now in between the quotation marks put in the full url including http://. Next type a word or two to identify the link. Finally type right pointing caret then the slash on the question mark key then a then left pointing caret.
    [/a]. So you end up with [a href=””]website name[/a] remembering that the brackets shown should really be carets.

  22. Jerry Scovel says:

    The human population is about to test the Malthusian theory of population on a global scale and only about one in two hundred genetic lines will pass through this global extinction event. The trick is to make sure that your genes make it to the other side of the event. The humans that survive will be brighter, stronger and more adaptable than those that fail. It is essential to be isolated from the general population and have the ability to produce all that you need to survive.

    I propose that artificial floating islands offer the best chance to avoid the ‘Mad Max’ scenario that will most assuredly be the fate of the land dwellers. Plastic barrels, plastic bottles and styrofoam have all been used to make rafts that have crossed the ocean. I will use plastic barrels to support my island as they will easily support weight and are easy to remove and repair if required.

    It is my hope that a few dozen nerds and their families will join me in constructing the islands. I have found that you can make a nerd as tough as a jock but you can never make a jock grasp concepts. I have the tools needed to build the islands and some of the materials but I will need partners to help me with the labor and the rest of the materials.

    I have a shop near Rock Island Illinois where we will construct the factory raft that we will use to build the other rafts. The factory raft will then be towed to the Mississippi river where we can use the power of the river to build the remaining rafts.