Lovelock: We're all going to die!

Well, if I must be called alarmist I may as well justify it :-)). The source (thanks CH) is James Lovelock in the Independent, who doesn't use those exact words but does say:

My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive, and clearly anything alive can enjoy good health, or suffer disease... The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth's physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth's family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger... We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and 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.

Obviously, billions of people *will* die before the end of the century; I will probably be one of them to die of old age. As long as I don't fall of a mountain or some other accident. Will I die of climate change? At the moment it seems unlikely to me. He also says:

Unfortunately our nation [the UK] is now so urbanised as to be like a large city and we have only a small acreage of agriculture and forestry. We are dependent on the trading world for sustenance; climate change will deny us regular supplies of food and fuel from overseas.

We *are* quite urbanised, but the farming area is still much larger than the urban area.

Anyway, enough knockabout, what about the substance of Lovelocks words? I disagree with the *certainty* he uses. The temperature rises are not certain; they depend on future CO2 etc emissions (if he is trying to say that these are already committed due to existing forcing, then he is way off the mark; but its all so broad-brush its rather hard to tell). This applies to the "impacts" bit too: i.e. the billions-will-die. He may be right; he may be not. He certainly doesn't back it up with any evidence. Apart from his reputation, why should anyone believe him? Also, his the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years misrepresents what the "climate specialists" do (if he means the physical climatologists): which is to say, we may well predict (or project) temperature rises, but... tend to leave the impacts alone. And of course the we're-all-going-to-die stuff plays into the hands of the septics: if its going to happen anyway, well then why bother do anything. Lovelock doesn't quite say this, or perhaps he says it then unsays it I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time... which if read carefully does make it clear that all this *is* contingent on future emissions.

His temperature predictions are:

...as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

and thats about all the substance (apart from noticing the recent global dimming; perhaps he has got carried away with that?) (He also sez We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years - what is the 100kyr a reference to? One stoat-point to the first convincing answer). Now we all know (having read James "Pielke Demolisher" Annan) that high values of climate sensitivity are unlikely. And the IPCC range is something like 1.5-5 oC (e.g. here). However, what I wanted to hang on this is the fact that temperature increases are expected to vary very strongly by region, and in particular the continents warm rather more than the seas. So its quite possible to get 5-6 oC increases even from the multi-model mean (e.g. this, which is admittedly the TAR but I don't think the numbers are bigger now). But I'm not sure where the 8 oC in the temperature regions and 5 oC in the tropics comes from - perhaps some particular model?

is it possible that all this is explained by My new book The Revenge of Gaia expands these thoughts...? I hope not. All in all I'm inclined to file this under "irresponsible journalism".


Anonymous said...

I'll claim that brownee point with this quote from Wikipedia "At the start of the Eocene, the Earth remained warm for about 80,000 to 200,000 years." Close enough to 100,000 years for an engineer like me. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene-Eocene_thermal_maximum.

I leave it to you to calculate the greenhouse effect caused at the PETM by the release of methane, and then to compare it with the greenhouse effect we can expect now from the sudden release of carbon dioxide.

Cheers, Alastair.

EliRabett said...

I have a friend who has two, rather well known colleagues. When he has a problem he asks it of both. The first gives him the wrong answer for the right reason, the second the right answer for the wrong reason. On his record, Lovelock is close to the second category.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I agree with elirabett's friend who believes that Lovelock is giving the right answer for the wrong reasons. Stoat on the other hand is giving the wrong answer for the wrong reasons - blind prejudice. It is interesting that hawks such as the US military and the green gurus such as James Lovelock come to the same conclusion. If I were Stoat I would think again! But perhaps his back garden is big enough to provide food for himself and his family throughout the year, and a wall around it high enough to keep out the starving hordes.

Cheers, Alastair.

Anonymous said...

Well, some of the things Lovelock said do seem a little unreasonable, such as his assertion that an 8oC temp rise would render all but polar regions uninhabitable. I don't think that would be at all the case for nominally temperate locations such as Minnesota. Would 8oC added there even make it sub-tropical? OTOH maybe Lovelock thinks Minnesota is actually polar, which is something the natives are heard saying often enough. :)

OTOH I just finished carefully reading Jim Hansen's AGU presentation, and frankly Lovelock's view doesn't seem all that distant (except for the population collapse prediction).

Speaking of the Independent, let me Ask Stoat about that reported 2.2 ppm CO2 jump for 2005.

William M. Connolley said...

Alistair - OK, you get the point, but then you lose it again for the Blind Prejudice comment :-)

All - the other thing I should have said, and which of course most people half-forget (including me) is that none of these T rises stop in 2100.

SB - CO2 jumps? Where? Recently, various folk (inc mosre rationally James Annan) have been suggesting that CO2 rises are sub-SRES. Would that 2.2 put it above/below?

EliRabett said...

Steve, the recipe for population collapse is five years crop failure mixed in with low energy supplies. Assume that and the rest is trivial.

Anonymous said...

minnesota-man, 8 degrees C does not get "added" in a simple linear way, these are global temperature averages discussed here. an average rise of 8 degrees in temperate zones will allow you to see what it's like in East Africa during a record heat wave. guaranteed.


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A speech given by Professor James Lovelock at IChemE’s 5thJohn Collier Memorial Lecture, Savoy Place, London, 28thNovember 2006 (check against delivery) I am much moved and greatly honoured to be chosen to receive the Collier Medal. In my lifetime as a scientist chemical engineering has been an important part and this makes me more at home with many of you here than with the loftier practitioners of the pure sciences. I began work in 1938 as a lab assistant to a firm of consultants in London whose customers were the photographic industry, their business covered everything from gelatine manufacture to the synthesis ofdyes for colour photography. It was hands on science and they gave responsibility, wisely I think, to school leavers that now would probably be denied graduates. Here I learnt the crucial importance ofaccurate measurement and had the chance to see chemistry in operation on an industrial scale. LaterI graduated as a chemist from Manchester University and went directly to the National Institute forMedical Research (NIMR) in London to work on wartime problems involving medicine and physiology. At my job interview, the director of the National Institute for Medical Research, Sir Henry Dale, who was also President of the Royal Society, told me with regret in his eyes, not to expect to do anyproper science since work at the Institute was now just solving ad hoc wartime problems, preferablyimmediately. In fact, I found wartime science in the 1940s fascinating and an incredibly good apprenticeship for the kind of scientist I have become. It was a world that could not afford the niceties of scientific correctness and where biologists, chemists and physicists worked in close collaboration on urgent practical problems. Fire watching on the Institute roof gave me a unique opportunity forface to face encounters with distinguished older scientists. When bombs or missiles made a near miss they tended to reveal amazing truths about their lives and craft secrets.Typical of the varied problems that confronted us was the prevention of cross infection in hospital wards and operating theatres that handled wartime casualties; and this in the days before antibiotics.My colleagues had invented an elegant device for measuring the bacterial content of the air. It drewair rapidly through a narrow slit poised above a circular plate of culture medium, about the size of a CD. The dish rotated slowly under the slit and after incubation, bacteria carrying particles collectedon the plate grew to visible colonies and so we had a continuous measure of the bacteria in the air. We were sent to a hospital that had an operating theatre with a poor record of cross infection; our sampler indicated an unhealthy contamination with pathogenic bacteria, which in those days werecalled haemolytic streptococci. We suspected that something was wrong with the ventilation and tried increasing the rate at which clean filtered air was blown in, but it made little difference to the bacterial count.In those days the ventilation rate of a room was calculated from the measured flow rate of air thoughthe input and output vents. The claimed rate was ten air changes per hour which should have beenenough. But we checked it by releasing a small quantity of an easily measured gas, hydrogen, andthen noting its decay in abundance. The decay was of course exponential and linear when plotted on log paper and the slope gave the ventilation rate in air changes per hour and it was if I remembercorrectly about two air changes per hour. We soon discovered that this was because the incoming air flowed across the top of the room and failed to mix with the air of the theatre itself. This was an exceedingly simple application of dynamics, where the operating room was viewed as a badly stirred reactor.
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2The concept must have stayed in my mind because many years later in the 1950s and still workingfor the MRC I made a number of detection devices for Martin and James newly invented gas chromatograph. A weakness of their first chromatograph was the lack of a sensitive vapour detector.I was able to provide them with two sensitive ionization detectors one of which could detect volumeconcentrations as dilute as parts per billion and the other less than parts per trillion. This helped to make gas chromatography a common but valued tool throughout science and industry. Thesedetectors also provided an opportunity to use the concept of the stirred reactor. The detectors weresmall vessels of about one ml volume through which gas from the chromatograph column flowed. One of these ionization detectors, the ECD became quite famous as the starter of the environmentalmovement; it enabled gas chromatography to find the widespread distribution of chlorinatedpesticides and gave support to Rachel Carson's hypothesis that these substances were destroyingbirds as well as insects and that their continued use in agriculture would lead to a silent spring. Buthow on earth do you calibrate an instrument capable of measuring vapours at parts per trillion? Standard mixture at the part per million are easy enough to make but at parts per billion the errorsgrow large. I doubt if anyone at that time the 1960s could make accurate ppt standards. I certainlycould not and met this problem in the only way open to me namely to investigate the theory of operation of the ECD and see if it could serve as an absolute detector. He ECD is a small reactor containing a suspension of thermal energy electrons in pure nitrogen and when detectable substances separated by the GC column entered it there was an immediate reaction and molecules of many substances, including pesticides, such as DDT or dieldrin; reacted to form a negative ion at eachcollision with an electron in the chamber. It was easy to calculate from the number of electrons removed, what was the vapour concentration. In other words the detector had the potential to beabsolute.The reaction between electrons and molecules is second order and the dynamics of its differential equations in the flow system of a GC was well beyond my mathematical competence usingtraditional analytical methods of solution. But I happened to have Hewlett Packard as one of mycustomers and was able to buy from them one of their first simple desk top computers. It enabled me to write the programs for the numerical solution of the detector equations and this led to understand itand then prove that it was an absolute method of analysis and that calibration might not be needed. The rate constant for the reaction of room temperature gaseous electrons treated as a chemical is inthe order of 3 time 10-7 cc per mol per second. About one thousand times faster than reactions between molecules. The ECD continued to be used to discover environmental hazards including PCBs and with it I first discovered the accumulation of CFCs in the atmosphere and of nitrous oxide and this played a major part in the research into the effect of CFCs on stratospheric ozone. The invention of these sensitive detectors led in 1961 to an invitation from no less a person than the director of space flight operations of NASA to be an experimenter on their future lunar and planetarymissions. It was this that gave me the courage to break the ties of loyalty that held me to that thennear perfect employer the MRC, and become an independent scientist. NASA needed simple ultrasensitive devices to for analyzing the surface and atmosphere of Mars and the Moon and these I provided but soon, as a result of my years in medical research, I found myself involved with the biologists who were trying to invent ways to search for life on Mars. Their approach was to make small automated laboratories that mimicked a hospital path lab. They intended to scoop up soil samples on Mars and see if organisms could be grown in culture media and then detect growtheither visually or by biochemical changes. They tested their prototype samplers in the nearby MohaveDesert and they worked well. I could not help asking them how you know that life on Mars is the same as here and will grow in your culture media. This was not a welcome question and they responded by asking me what I would do instead. I replied seek an entropy reduction of the whole
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3planet, something that would indicate the existence of life whatever its form. Strangely this made them quite cross they seemed to think that I was mocking them but in fact I was serious having just read Schrödinger’s small but powerful book ‘What is Life?’ The next day I was summoned to the office of the lab director. A tough character named BobMaghreblian. He wanted to know why I was upsetting his biologists and what did I mean by anentropy reduction detector? I replied that I would need time to think about it and he then said ‘youhave until Friday’. It was then Tuesday and I realized that my next contract with JPL lay in the balance. On Thursday night it occurred to me that if I looked at a planetary atmosphere as a stirred reactor it would not be difficult to measure its entropy simply by analyzing the chemical composition of its atmosphere, then calculating how far it was departed from thermodynamic equilibrium. Theidea behind this was that life on a planet is obliged to use a mobile medium like the atmosphere as a source of raw materials and a sink for waste products and such a use would make it characteristically different from the equilibrium atmosphere of a dead planet. When I told Maghreblian he was delighted by the idea and responded enthusiastically. He suggested that I write a letter on the concept to Nature, which I did, and it was published in 1965.In September of that year I was in a small room at JPL together with a colleague Dian Hitchcock and the astronomer Carl Sagan, we were discussing planetary atmosphere when the door suddenly opened and another astronomer Lou Kaplan entered bringing data sheets of the latest infra red astronomical analyses of the Mars and Venus atmospheres. They showed both planets to have atmosphere made almost wholly of carbon dioxide with only a percent or less of the other gases. Tome this meant they were close to chemical equilibrium and therefore lifeless. When I looked at the composition of our own atmosphere as if I were an alien from some other world suddenly I realized that the conventional geochemical wisdom of the 1960s was probably wrong. It held that the atmosphere was a direct consequence of inorganic chemistry acting over the Earth’s long history. Viewed from outside the air which appears to be stable in composition overlong periods is in fact deep in chemical disequilibrium. The time constant for the photochemical reaction in the air between oxygen and methane, for example, is about twelve years. This requires ahuge production rate for both of these gases and one that stays constant for long periods. . We knew that oxygen was made by green plants and Hutchinson had shown that other atmospheric gases including methane, and nitrous oxide were direct biological products and that the otherprinciple gases oxygen nitrogen and carbon dioxide were massively cycled through the biota. Life at the surface seemed to me at least as influential as inorganic geochemistry. As these thoughts passed through my mind in 1965 and it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the air is kept dynamically stable by life at the surface and maybe the organisms were regulating theatmosphere in their own interest. I was encouraged further in this belief by the astronomer CarlSagan, who shared the office with me, he said that astronomers were fairly sure that the sun has increased its heat output by 30% since the Earth was formed. Carl wondered how the Earth seemedto have grown cooler not hotter in spite of it. We both knew that small changes in methane andcarbon dioxide greatly affected climate and for me this was enough to postulate that life regulated the Earth’s atmosphere and climate so as always to keep it habitable. When I returned to England I discussed the idea with a near neighbour the novelist William Golding and he suggested calling the hypothesis Gaia, after the Earth Goddess of the ancient Greeks; shewas of course the same goddess that we acknowledge in the name of geology and geography and so on.
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4Shortly after I began collaboration with the eminent biologist Lynn Margulis; she enriched the hypothesis with her deep understanding of micro-organisms which were the whole of the biosphereuntil the end of the Proterozoic. For the next few years Gaia was just another hypothesis neither welcomed nor rejected but in the late 1970s neo Darwinist biologists mounted a strong attack led by W. Ford Doolittle and soon followed by Richard Dawkins. Their main criticism was that the hypothesis invoked teleology, as Dawkins put it in his book The Extended Phenotype, there was no way for an organism to evolve to regulateanything beyond its phenotype. So powerful were these critics that by about 1980 the objections toGaia were so strong it became almost impossible to publish a paper with Gaia in the title. I responded by expressing my ideas in books. The first ‘Gaia: a new look at life on Earth’ was published in 1979. The criticism from biologists was painful but it was valuable because it forced me to think. In 1981 I realised that they were partially right and that there was no way for an organism or the biosphere to evolve by natural selection to regulate the whole planet. From my background in industrial science I knew about feedback, control theory and how systems self regulate. It occurred to me that the Biologist’s objection could be answered if instead of life weconsidered the whole system of life and the material Earth taken together as a unit; this Earth systemcould be the entity that evolved planet scale self regulation. To test this idea I made a numerical model of two species of dark and light plants evolving on a simple world whose star increased it heatoutput as it aged as our Sun is doing. The climate of the model planet was determined by extent to which that dark and light coloured daisies reflected or absorbed sunlight; the model which regulatedplanetary temperature close to the optimum for plant growth over a wide range of solar output. (Figure 1) Daisyworld needs no careful choice of initial conditions, is never chaotic and is strongly resistant to perturbation. The temperature it predicts and holds constant is determined only by the normal preference of the daisies. There are no set points on daisyworld it evolves its temperature regulation. The model was welcomed by climatologists as a practical way of including the influence of natural ecosystems in their forecasts of future climates. Biologists were either unconvinced or irritated and made many attempts to falsify it but none of them succeeded. It is important to note that the mathematical models of both climate scientists and biologists at this time were of systems that anengineer would instantly recognize as open loop. Not surprisingly both climate and life scientists soon discovered deterministic chaos instead of the answers to their questions.I have expressed my views on climate change more forcibly than do most other climate scientists. And I did so from a top down view of the whole planet not from the specialist view more usual inscience. I see it as a physiological system and something that actively responds to change and quite different from the dead planets Mars and Venus that respond passively. Far from decreasing my pessimism this Gaian view leads to climate models that suggest the Earth is now in what in medicinewould be called failure; in other words, natural climate regulation is temporarily out of action. The models suggest a rapid change in temperature to a hot stable state that the Earth has experienced many times in its history. This is in contrast to conventional climate predictions that are almost all off them based on geophysical models that assume a planetary biota that responds passively not activelyto change. In 1994 the American geochemist Lee Kump and I made a simple model of the Earth that wasintended to do no more than illustrate for teaching purposes how the Earth could self regulate its
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5climate. As time has passed to our surprise this model has unusually well predicted the course of Global heating. Our model was a descendant of daisyworld and was a simple planet that had land masses andoceans in similar proportion to the Earth. We had plants growing on the land and algae in the ocean. The model planet was illuminated by a star at the same distance and same luminosity as the sun. The surface temperature of the planet depended on the greenhouse effect of the carbon dioxidein the atmosphere and the proportion of sunlight reflected by the surface and clouds. Carbon dioxide abundance was regulated by the growth of the planets vegetation. The most important part of the model was the variation with temperature of the area covered by algal and plants. In the laboratorythe growth rate of plants and algae both increase as the temperature rises from 0oC to a peak near30oC and then falls to zero at 50oC. In the real world geophysics intervenes. Algal growth and area cover increases with temperature from 0oC as in the lab but in the ocean growth ceases at about 10 to 12oC when the surface water forms a stable layer about 30 to 50 metres thick; whenthis happens nutrients in the cooler water below are no longer mixed in and the algae starve. On the land, plant growth similarly increases with temperature until the rate of water evaporation becomes greater than the rainfall and this is at a temperature of about 22oC, here also growth ceases exceptin the special case of tropical rainforests which have evolved a number of mechanisms to conservewater.(Figure 2) What is modelled here is an event similar to the geological accident 55 million years ago at thebeginning of the Eocene period. In that event between one and two terratons of carbon dioxide were released into the air. We are fairly sure about this from measurements made by ProfessorElderfield of Cambridge University and his colleagues. They measured the carbon and oxygenisotopes of the sedimentary rocks of that time and confirmed the quantity of carbon put in the air and the extent the temperature changed. Putting this much CO2 in the air caused the temperature of the temperate and Arctic regions to rise 8oC and of the tropics 5oC and it took about 200,000 years forconditions to return to their previous state. In the 20thcentury we injected about half that amount of CO2 and if we continue as we are, we will have released in thirty years from now more than a million million tons of CO2. Moreover, the sun is now hotter than it was 55 Myears ago and we have disabled about 40% of Gaia’s regulatory capacity by using land to feed people. This is whyclimate scientists are so concerned that we have already set in motion damaging climate change. The history of global heating 55 million years ago suggests that the injection of gaseous carbon compounds took place over a period of about 10,000 years, much slower than we are now doing.In his paper, Professor Elderfield’s suggests that because of the slow rate of introduction CO2 rose byno more than 70 and 160 ppm. Compared with our present pollution with CO2 this is a small increase, we have already raised CO2 by 100 ppm with an injection of only 500 Gigatons. Inthirty years, if we continue business as usual, we will have added 1000 Giga tons and raised CO2 by 200ppm, more than is thought to have been present in the early Eocene. The great rapidity ofour pollution of the atmosphere with carbon gases is as damaging as is the quantity. The rapidity ofour pollution gives the Earth system little time to adjust and this is particularly important for the ocean ecosystems; the rapid accumulation of CO2 in the surface water is making them too acid for shell forming organisms. This did not happen during the Eocene event because there was time for the more alkaline deep waters to mix in and neutralize the surface ocean. There are other differences between the earth 55 Myrs ago and now. It was about three degrees warmer at the start of the event and it took place on an Earth with a more uniform temperature than
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6now. The polar ocean was a land locked fresh water lake. There were no ice caps and the sea was about 200 metres higher than now. On the other hand the sun was 0.5% cooler and there was no agriculture anywhere so that natural vegetation was free to regulate the climate. Another difference was that the world was not then experiencing global dimming – the 2 to 3 degrees of global cooling caused by the atmospheric aerosol of man made pollution. This haze that covers much of the Northern hemisphere offsets global heating by reflecting sunlight. The aerosol particles of thehaze persist in the air for only a few weeks, whereas carbon dioxide persists for between 50 and 100 years. Any economic downturn or planned cut back in fossil fuel use, which lessened the aerosol density, could carry us beyond the threshold of irreversible change. This is why I say we livein a fool’s climate. We are damned if we continue to burn fuel and damned if we stop too suddenly.Global heating is now a perceptible warming trend but as the 21stcentury unfolds the heat will intensify and together with drought, storms and floods make much of the world uninhabitable. Ourremote ancestors lived through similar catastrophic climate changes as the Earth moved between glacial and interglacial periods but no record of their thoughts and fears has survived except perhapsthe persistent legend of the flood. We can imagine an early civilization 13,000 years ago at the depth of the last ice age going about their daily business at a coastal site 120 metres below what is now sea level at some warm but temperate place at low latitudes. They did not know it then but soontheir world would vanish as natural global heating melted vast accumulations of Arctic and Antarcticice. Land, the area of the entire African continent disappeared beneath the sea and global temperatures rose to make the regions we now know as the tropics. The consequences of present day man made global heating will be at least as severe climatically but take place on our denselypopulated world hosting a set of fragile civilizations. The intolerably hot world soon to come cansupport only a remnant of today’s burgeoning humanity and the survivors will be driven to the coolerregions of the arctic and to a few continental oases and to islands. We have to understand that the catastrophe threatened by global heating is far worse than any war, famine, or plague in livingmemory; worse even than global nuclear war. Much of the lush and comfortable Earth we nowenjoy is about to become a hot and barren desert. These stark predictions may seem exaggerated but in fact they differ only in emphasis from the well respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which published its third assessment report in 2001. It was well and clearly written but reflected the natural caution of good scientists and did not often capture the attention of an intelligent lay person. For example it speaks of the probability of global temperatures rising as much as 3 degrees by the end of the century and the possibility of a rise as much as 5 degrees. To the average reader even 5 degrees seems a small and easily managed change but climate scientists know that a 5 degree shift in global temperature is a change of geological proportions. To me this serious and properly scientific report is the most scary and pessimistic document I have ever read, it is as frightening as it would be to receive personally the diagnosis of an untreatable malignancy. A climate scientist would find it difficult to escape theconclusion that by 2040 the intolerably hot European summer of 2003 when 20,000 died, will be the norm and by 2060, if anyone remains to observe it, that torrid summer would be thought cool. There will be painful human and natural consequences of repeated summers of such severity; agricultural and natural ecosystems will perish and no longer be able to support Europe’s densepopulation. Even the milder summer heat of 2006 has cut back European agricultural production by40%. The Americas, Africa and Asia will endure similar adverse change and mass migration to cooler regions seems inevitable. (Figure 3)
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7As a scientist I know that there are no certainties about the future only probabilities. The climate modellers are not unanimous in their predictions; the respected climatologists Tom Wigley and Meehl both think that temperatures will not rise much more than 2 degrees by the end of the century and rapid global heating may never happen. We might be rescued by a natural event, such as a series of large volcanoes each the size of Tamboura that erupted in sequence. This could put the Earth back on course towards the next glaciation. More probably, when the people of the United States become aware of the reality of global heating they will try to fix it with sunshades in space or by stratospheric particles that reflect sunlight away from the Earth. Technological fixes of this kind should not be unthinkingly condemned; they might buy us all some much needed time but more probably they would provide the excuse to continue business as usual. It would be as unwise to rely on themas a cure as for someone threatened with kidney failure to assume that dialysis would allow life to goon as before. But who would refuse dialysis if death was the alternative? Despite this reservation, I am fairly sure that our proper response to global heating lies in science and engineering and not byabandoning them. For many nations nuclear energy will a powerful aid for the sustenance of habitability and civilization. So what should we do? First we have to change the way we think about the Earth. We have been led unintentionally astray both by our traditional religious beliefs and by the lack of a unified Earth and Life science. Our morality requires a belief in the transcendence of human welfare and we act asif the Earth was given to us and we are in charge of it. These precepts ignore the fact that we share the planet with a host of other life forms and we depend on them to sustain a habitable environment.We also need to change our thinking about environmentalism. Environmentalism is an urban belief that encompasses a wide spread longing for a more natural way of life but has little understanding of the natural world and which has an irrational fear of almost anything scientific. At present Environmentalists pay lip service to threats to wild life and to ecosystems like coral reefs and theAmazon forest but in practice they are obsessed with hazards to personal health such as: pesticide residues in foodstuff, nuclear radiation, and genetically modified food. They have near completely ignored regulatory functions of natural ecosystems and failed to see that they can not be replaced by farmland. Indeed we are only just beginning to suspect that human changes in the Earth’s surface ecosystems by primitive farmers may have affected climate for perhaps as much as 100,000 years.The early settlers in Australia were almost as good at destroying ecosystems as a modern agribusiness farmer, and organic farmers are unlikely to be better.Green ideology is an understandable response to adverse change but it is wrong to make science and technology the scapegoats for its anger. Not surprisingly any alternative energy scheme that seems natural and not based on science or technology is embraced by environmentalists. Some of these alternatives, such as biofuels are positively dangerous and if exploited on a large scale would hasten disaster. Others such as wind energy are inefficient and expensive. In the now rapidly changing world the green concepts of sustainable development and renewable energy that inspiredthe Kyoto meeting are far too late to have any value. What we need now is a well planned and sustainable retreat from the polluted and degraded world of today. The only way, I think, to do this is to welcome science and technology and make maximum use of environmentally friendly nuclear fission energy. We are an urban civilization and to survive the severe climate change soon due we need secure supplies of food water and electricity. We cannot expect to go on burning fossil fuel nor establish a non polluting way to do it in time. Therefore, except where electricity is powered byabundant water flow or geophysical heat, there is no safe alternative to nuclear energy. I think that all of us here who are well informed about the benefits of nuclear energy have a duty to humanity to speak strongly in its favour. We cannot stand aside from the persistent fiction that nuclear
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8energy is uniquely unsafe. We have started a new century still disregarding the true nature of theEarth and the consequences of this neglect are beginning to be felt; as the century proceeds they could be devastating. As the Earth changes to its new hot state there will be vast geographic and demographic changes. There is almost certain to be major unrest as whole communities are displaced by flood or drought. Modern civilization is energy intensive and we cannot turn it offwithout crashing, we need the security of a powered descent. We have to start now the expensive task of preparing our defences against change. Island nations like Japan and the UK, because of their oceanic position, will be less affected but become an ever more attractive destination for the world’s climate refugees. We must prepare as global heating intensifies to make maximum use of our own indigenous sources of food and fuel. Supplies from abroad are likely to become expensive and eventually unobtainable. Chemical engineers may have to consider synthesizing food. In no way do I mean that there is no hope for us or that there is nothing that we can do. I see our predicament as like that of a nation about to be invaded by a powerful enemy; now we are at warwith the Earth and faced with much more than a blitzkrieg. All our efforts and energies should go towards adapting to the ineluctable changes we may soon experience. Perhaps the saddest thing isthat if we fail Gaia will lose as much or more than we do. Not only will whole ecosystems and most of their wildlife go extinct but in human civilization the planet has a precious resource. We are notmerely a disease; we are through our intelligence and communication the nervous system of the Earth. We should be its heart and mind, not its malady. I have tried to show that Gaia theory provides anintellectual habitat where understanding of the Earth can evolve and grow. Perhaps its greatest value lies in its metaphor of a living Earth, which reminds us that we are part of it and most of all that there are no human rights only human obligations.

Anonymous said...

i don't know what to believe any more. people are getting global warming mixed up with us running out of resources. all i know is that we are all going to die, the human race is successfully discovering more and more ways of eliminating itself. nuclear war will probably tear up the face of the earth and we'll all go to hell for our sins. enjoy life while you can, cus it's not all it's cracked up to be.