“Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting our lives in the coming decades.” This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.
I am dipping my toe in to uncharted waters again. It’s not my usual way to post anything quite so controversial as a radical statement about climate change. Articles such as this one can cause fear to some and are seriously side-stepped by others. Why? Because the subject is so fearful. We don’t want to be stirred up when life is giving us a great ride or even a good ride… or even a bum ride! We leave apocalyptic horrors to fiction writers like Steven King. (The Stand) Don’t you just love a Steven King book? He can speak of death and horror in such a way, we all lap it up, always wanting more. But when a much respected scientist expresses the same apocalyptic thoughts as a good fiction writer, we often dismiss them as nonsense and scare-mongering.
I enjoyed the article James wrote because he does not dance around the facts. I not only found his claims noteworthy, I found them much along the lines of my own. Like him, I feel our planet functions as a single organism that cannot endure constant abuse like bombing mountain tops in Western Virginia for coal, or cutting down precious forests in most of Asia and South America, for Palm oil.
James Lovelock has made some pretty serious statements concerning Planet Earth over the decades, but now he’s telling the world that it is too late. He said, “People might as well enjoy themselves now while they can. There is no future for the Earth. We humans are too stupid to even grasp what we are doing to our Earth.”
Do you agree with him or is he coming from the stand-point of gloom and doom in his old age?
James Lovelock with Leo Hickman for the Guardian Online
Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and nothing can prevent large parts of our planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater. This would result in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain, he believes is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature. Our only chance of survival will come, not from less technology, but more.
Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem – the bigger challenge will be food. “Maybe they’ll synthesis food. I don’t know. Synthesiing food is not some mad visionary idea. You can buy it in Tesco’s, in the form of Quorn. It’s not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it.”
But he fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been forecasting Armageddon since time began, he says. “But this is the real thing.”
Faced with two versions of the future – Kyoto’s prheventative action or Lovelock’s apocalypse – who are we to believe? Some critics have suggested Lovelock’s readiness to concede the fight against climate change owes more to old age than science: “People who say that about me haven’t reached my age,” he says laughing.
But when I ask if he attributes the conflicting predictions to differences in scientific understanding or personality, he says: “Personality.”
There’s more than a hint of the controversial in his work, and it seems an unlikely coincidence that Lovelock became convinced of the irreversibility of climate change in 2004, at the very point when the international consensus was coming round to the idea of the need for urgent action. Aren’t his theories at least partly driven by a fondness for heresy?
“Not a bit! Not a bit! All I want is a quiet life! But I can’t help noticing when things happen, when you go out and find something. People don’t like it because it upsets their ideas.”
But the suspicion seems confirmed when I ask if he’s found it rewarding to see many of his climate change warnings endorsed by the IPCC.
“Oh no! In fact, I’m writing another book now, I’m about a third of the way into it, to try and take the next steps ahead.”
It’s going to happen!
Interviewers often remark about the discrepancy between Lovelock’s predictions of doom, and his good humour. “Well I’m cheerful!” he says, smiling. “I’m an optimist. It’s going to happen.“
“Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9″, he explains, “when we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”. But once the second world war was under way, “everyone got excited. They loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday … so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose – that’s what people want.”
At moments I wonder about Lovelock’s credentials as a prophet. Sometimes he seems less clear-eyed with scientific vision than disposed to see the version of the future his prejudices are looking for. A socialist as a young man, he now favors market forces, and it’s not clear whether his politics are the child or the father of his science. His hostility to renewable energy, for example, gets expressed in strikingly Eurosceptic terms of irritation with subsidies and bureaucrats. But then, when he talks about the Earth – or Gaia – it is in the purest scientific terms of all.
“There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that’s just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we’ll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That’s the source of my optimism.”
What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”
Is James Lovelock a prophet of doom or has an exceptionally long life enabled him to draw conclusions about the state of the planet that most governments of today, fail to see? – Could he be entirely wrong?
Personally, I don’t think so. We only have to look at the oceans or the “plastic soup,” that now threatens us.
I know this is a long read but do hope some of you bloggers want to leave your views on this controversial article.