James Lovelock's View

An article I just received from the Guardian, about James Lovelock's (The Gaia Hypothesis) view of what's happening.

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk
site, go to

'Enjoy life while you can'
Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is
carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam. So what
would he do?
By Decca Aitkenhead
Saturday March 1 2008
The Guardian

In 1965 executives at Shell wanted to know what the world would
look like in
the year 2000. They consulted a range of experts, who speculated
fusion-powered hovercrafts and "all sorts of fanciful technological
When the oil company asked the scientist James Lovelock, he
predicted that the
main problem in 2000 would be the environment. "It will be
worsening then to
such an extent that it will seriously affect their business," he

"And of course," Lovelock says, with a smile 43 years later,
"that's almost
exactly what's happened."

Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man
laboratory in an old
mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of
which have
earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if
maverick -
independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he
invented a
device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in
the ozone
layer, and introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory
that the
Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by
scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis
of almost
all climate science.

For decades, his advocacy of nuclear power appalled fellow
environmentalists -
but recently increasing numbers of them have come around to his way
thinking. His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by
2020 extreme
weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040
much of
Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The
recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report
deploys less
dramatic language - but its calculations aren't a million miles
away from his.

As with most people, my panic about climate change is equalled only
by my
confusion over what I ought to do about it. A meeting with Lovelock
feels a little like an audience with a prophet. Buried down a
winding track
through wild woodland, in an office full of books and papers and
involving dials and wires, the 88-year-old presents his thoughts
with a quiet,
unshakable conviction that can be unnerving. More alarming even
than his
apocalyptic climate predictions is his utter certainty that almost
we're trying to do about it is wrong.

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid
Britain of
plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the
canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting,
and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that
lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock
says, a
deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might
make us feel
better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has
passed the
tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along
routes like
that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All
these standard
green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just
words that
mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you
can't say
that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it
gives us an
immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I
dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to
think you're
offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're
far better
off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the
peoples to not take down their forests."

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take?
"No we don't.
Because we can't." And recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a
waste of
time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to
little more than
"ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical
"Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam ... or if it
wasn't one
in the beginning, it becomes one."

Somewhat unexpectedly, Lovelock concedes that the Mail's plastic
bag campaign
seems, "on the face of it, a good thing". But it transpires that
this is
largely a tactical response; he regards it as merely more
rearrangement of
Titanic deckchairs, "but I've learnt there's no point in causing a
over everything". He saves his thunder for what he considers the
false promise of all - renewable energy.

"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society
such as
ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can
cover the whole
country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

This is all delivered with an air of benign wonder at the intractable
stupidity of people. "I see it with everybody. People just want to
go on doing
what they're doing. They want business as usual. They say, 'Oh yes,
going to be a problem up ahead,' but they don't want to change

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that
nothing can
prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or
underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics.
Britain 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
will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger
will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know.
Synthesising 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
foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the

Faced with two versions of the future - Kyoto's preventative action
Lovelock's apocalypse - who are we to believe? Some critics have
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 controversialist 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 need for urgent action. Aren't his theories at
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
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."

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock's
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 favours 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 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
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."

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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davelambert's picture

Before reading this article, I knew very little about Lovelock. So it came as a bit of a surprise that so many of his conclusions are identical to my own purely intuitive ones. He's a scientist, he can name dates and talk about which parts will be underwater and which will be desert. I just know it's coming. Like him, I remain an optimist, and for some of the same reasons. Part of the malaise that infects our societies today draws its strength from the dreary ennui that lies just beneath the glittery surface of our culture. We live in a golden age of self-indulgent technology; we should be happy. We may know better - but as long as Joe Tilesetter and his family don't, we have work to do.

Our new paradigms and holistic teachings wouldn't stand a chance in a direct confrontation with the elite. Our hope and our promise lies in the fulfillment of Dr. Lovelock's prophecies, which are no more dire than John the Revelator's.

My years of hiking and camping have taught me something. The people who lived here before us took a good living from this arid land. We sell chia at the health-food store for nearly $20 a pound. In the back country it grows everywhere, wild. We have rabbits, dove, quail, deer, rattlesnake and all kinds of fish. I don't know that my local environment will survive or if I will be able to personally live off it if it comes to that, but that's not my point. My point is that the people who lived on the land, with their twig-and-bark houses, their native medicines, and their intimacy with the land, had happy, productive, healthy lives. They were not afflicted with ennui and depravity. They had celebrations and festivals, and life was far from grim. This is how I know we will survive. If my environment is no longer here another one will be, and people will find themselves thriving in spite of all that happens. And there's no need to think we'll be going back to being hunter-gatherers. That's just a worst-case scenario, which may actually happen in some places. But for most of us, we'll be able to cobble together some wonderful communities, decent transportation and communication, and in most ways will be far better off than our ancestors who lived 100 years ago.

I don't have Lovelock's scientific credentials;I just look around me and draw conclusions. I think Baha'u'llah, the prophet of the Baha'i Faith, was on the money when he said the entire established order would soon collapse from its own weight. I think we see that happening. If we choose to believe that accurate prophecies were written concerning our time, we may also see validity in the vision of what lies beyond: a New Age, with new paradigms and new truths. Real peace, not just because the technology for war is largely gone, but because everyone truly sees the horrible fallacy of violence, the Big Lie that it solves anything.

I think many of us will live to see this New Age, at least its early, chaotic years - I certainly hope to. I think we will be the first generation of griots, bards and shamans. I see mentoring as one of our prime functions - at least, one of mine. Each of us reflects the Light in a unique way. Lovelock certainly does.


denisestgermain's picture

Mr James Lovelock's vision, his perspective and his optimism are touching me in a positive way.

It helps me to accept that I am part of a larger evolution. After 20 years of fighting for keeping a clean environment I decided to accept the reality and to stop accusing the world. Acceptance of what it is, is part of the change and the other part is to

be the change.

Each living being is coming from the earth and intuitively more and more people start to feel something is coming without defining it.

I agree with 8-D, we are the first generation of shamans of this "golden age" and consciousness is our strength.

Thank you to have posted this inspiring article.

May we reflect our light.


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