[extropy-chat] 'The Revenge of Gaia' by James Lovelock

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Tue Jan 17 19:56:57 UTC 2006

<http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article338878.ece>'We Are Past 
the Point of No Return': James Lovelock
MICHAEL MCCARTHY, Environment Editor - The Independent (U.K.)

Thirty years ago, the scientist James Lovelock worked out that the Earth 
possessed a planetary-scale control system which kept the environment fit 
for life. He called it Gaia, and the theory has become widely accepted. 
Now, he believes mankind's abuse of the environment is making that 
mechanism work against us. His astonishing conclusion - that climate change 
is already insoluble, and life on Earth will never be the same again.

The world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and 
civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive, according to James 
Lovelock, the scientist and green guru who conceived the idea of Gaia - the 
Earth which keeps itself fit for life.

In a profoundly pessimistic new assessment, published in today's 
Independent, Professor Lovelock suggests that efforts to counter global 
warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late.

The world and human society face disaster to a worse extent, and on a 
faster timescale, than almost anybody realises, he believes. He writes: " 
Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding 
pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate 
remains tolerable."

In making such a statement, far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist 
of comparable international standing, Professor Lovelock accepts he is 
going out on a limb. But as the man who conceived the first wholly new way 
of looking at life on Earth since Charles Darwin, he feels his own analysis 
of what is happening leaves him no choice. He believes that it is the 
self-regulating mechanism of Gaia itself - increasingly accepted by other 
scientists worldwide, although they prefer to term it the Earth System - 
which, perversely, will ensure that the warming cannot be mastered.

This is because the system contains myriad feedback mechanisms which in the 
past have acted in concert to keep the Earth much cooler than it otherwise 
would be. Now, however, they will come together to amplify the warming 
being caused by human activities such as transport and industry through 
huge emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2 ).

It means that the harmful consequences of human beings damaging the living 
planet's ancient regulatory system will be non-linear - in other words, 
likely to accelerate uncontrollably.

He terms this phenomenon "The Revenge of Gaia" and examines it in detail in 
a new book with that title, to be published next month.

The uniqueness of the Lovelock viewpoint is that it is holistic, rather 
than reductionist. Although he is a committed supporter of current research 
into climate change, especially at Britain's Hadley Centre, he is not 
looking at individual facets of how the climate behaves, as other 
scientists inevitably are. Rather, he is looking at how the whole control 
system of the Earth behaves when put under stress.

Professor Lovelock, who conceived the idea of Gaia in the 1970s while 
examining the possibility of life on Mars for Nasa in the US, has been 
warning of the dangers of climate change since major concerns about it 
first began nearly 20 years ago.

He was one of a select group of scientists who gave an initial briefing on 
global warming to Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet at 10 Downing Street in April 

His concerns have increased steadily since then, as evidence of a warming 
climate has mounted. For example, he shared the alarm of many scientists at 
the news last September that the ice covering the Arctic Ocean is now 
melting so fast that in 2005 it reached a historic low point.

Two years ago he sparked a major controversy with an article in The 
Independent calling on environmentalists to drop their long-standing 
opposition to nuclear power, which does not produce the greenhouses gases 
of conventional power stations.

Global warming was proceeding so fast that only a major expansion of 
nuclear power could bring it under control, he said. Most of the Green 
movement roundly rejected his call, and does so still.

Now his concerns have reached a peak - and have a new emphasis. Rather than 
calling for further ways of countering climate change, he is calling on 
governments in Britain and elsewhere to begin large-scale preparations for 
surviving what he now sees as inevitable - in his own phrase today, "a hell 
of a climate", likely to be in Europe up to 8C hotter than it is today.

In his book's concluding chapter, he writes: "What should a sensible 
European government be doing now? I think we have little option but to 
prepare for the worst, and assume that we have passed the threshold."

And in today's Independent he writes: "We will do our best to survive, but 
sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and 
India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of [CO2] 
emissions. The worst will happen ..."

He goes on: "We have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise 
how little time is left to act, and then each community and nation must 
find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as 
long as they can." He believes that the world's governments should plan to 
secure energy and food supplies in the global hothouse, and defences 
against the expected rise in sea levels. The scientist's vision of what 
human society may ultimately be reduced to through climate change is " a 
broken rabble led by brutal warlords."

Professor Lovelock draws attention to one aspect of the warming threat in 
particular, which is that the expected temperature rise is currently being 
held back artificially by a global aerosol - a layer of dust in the 
atmosphere right around the planet's northern hemisphere - which is the 
product of the world's industry.

This shields us from some of the sun's radiation in a phenomenon which is 
known as "global dimming" and is thought to be holding the global 
temperature down by several degrees. But with a severe industrial downturn, 
the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere in a very short time, and the 
global temperature could take a sudden enormous leap upwards.

One of the most striking ideas in his book is that of "a guidebook for 
global warming survivors" aimed at the humans who would still be struggling 
to exist after a total societal collapse.

Written, not in electronic form, but "on durable paper with long-lasting 
print", it would contain the basic accumulated scientific knowledge of 
humanity, much of it utterly taken for granted by us now, but originally 
won only after a hard struggle - such as our place in the solar system, or 
the fact that bacteria and viruses cause infectious diseases.

Rough guide to a planet in jeopardy

Global warming, caused principally by the large-scale emissions of 
industrial gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), is almost certainly the 
greatest threat that mankind has ever faced, because it puts a question 
mark over the very habitability of the Earth.

Over the coming decades soaring temperatures will mean agriculture may 
become unviable over huge areas of the world where people are already poor 
and hungry; water supplies for millions or even billions may fail. Rising 
sea levels will destroy substantial coastal areas in low-lying countries 
such as Bangladesh, at the very moment when their populations are 
mushrooming. Numberless environmental refugees will overwhelm the capacity 
of any agency, or indeed any country, to cope, while modern urban 
infrastructure will face devastation from powerful extreme weather events, 
such as Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans last summer.

The international community accepts the reality of global warming, 
supported by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In its 
last report, in 2001, the IPCC said global average temperatures were likely 
to rise by up to 5.8C by 2100. In high latitudes, such as Britain, the rise 
is likely to be much higher, perhaps 8C. The warming seems to be proceeding 
faster than anticipated and in the IPCC's next report, 2007, the timescale 
may be shortened. Yet there still remains an assumption that climate change 
is controllable, if CO2 emissions can be curbed. Lovelock is warning: think 

'The Revenge of Gaia' by James Lovelock is published by Penguin on 2 
February, price £16.99  

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list