Global Warming: Be Very Afraid

Or not. James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia Theory stating that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism, has packed up and moved to beachfront property. It’s a shocking move given the impending ocean rise due to climate change.

After more than three decades living amid acres of trees he planted himself by hand, he and his wife Sandy have decided to downsize and move to an old lifeguard’s cottage by the beach in Dorset. “I’m not worried about sea-level rises,” he laughs. “At worst, I think it will be 2ft a century.”

Given that Lovelock predicted in 2006 that by this century’s end “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable”, this new laissez-faire attitude to our environmental fate smells and sounds like of a screeching handbrake turn.

Indeed, earlier this year he admitted to MSNBC in an interview reported around the world with somewhat mocking headlines along the lines of “Doom-monger recants”, that he had been “extrapolating too far” in reaching such a conclusion and had made a “mistake” in claiming to know with such certainty what will happen to the climate.

But there’s more to it than acknowledging uncertainty, recanting, over-extrapolation or ignoring the ocean rise:

Three years ago, he received a heating bill for the winter totalling £6,000. His age means he has to have the heating on full in his poorly insulted home and, with his disabled son, Tom, living in a house next door, his outgoings on fuel rocketed. Damp winters on the edge of Dartmoor were taking their toll, so in recent years he has overwintered in St Louis, his wife’s hometown in Missouri.

Yep, he set his “science” aside and changed his brilliant, alarmist mind when it hit him in the pocketbook. Seriously. You just can’t make this stuff up.

The experience altered his attitude to the politics and economics of energy. Having already upset many environmentalists – for whom he is something of a guru – with his long-time support for nuclear power and his hatred of wind power (he has a picture of a wind turbine on the wall of his study to remind him how “ugly and useless they are”), he is now coming out in favour of “fracking”, the controversial technique for extracting natural gas from the ground. He argues that, while not perfect, it produces far less CO2 than burning coal: “Gas is almost a give-away in the US at the moment. They’ve gone for fracking in a big way. Let’s be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it.”

Wow. Fracking is pragmatic and sensible? And we should be going mad on it. That’s stunning. What the heck happened to change his mind?

“I’m neither strongly left nor right, but I detest the Liberal Democrats.”

He delivers his mischievous bombshells with such rapidity and meekness that there is a danger one can miss the all-important clarification and context.

“They are all well-meaning, but they have mostly had little experience of power,” he adds. “The coalition has behaved disgracefully on environmental and energy policies.

Behaved disgracefully? Weak and pathetic, but I suppose it’s a start… He continues:

Lovelock does not miss a chance to criticise the green movement that has long paid heed to his views. “It’s just the way the humans are that if there’s a cause of some sort, a religion starts forming around it. It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion. I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use. The greens use guilt. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting CO2 in the air.”

You don’t say! So what to do? What to do?

Lovelock is influenced at present by US biologist EO Wilson and his study of social insects. “He’s come up with an extraordinary theory that the nest is the unit of selection, not the individual insects. That has enormous consequences. Now consider that applied to humans. If we all move into cities, they become the equivalent of a nest. Then another thought comes immediately from that: if that’s the way the flow is going, don’t stop it, let’s encourage it. Instead of trying to save the planet by geo-engineering or whatever, you merely have to air-condition the cities.”

This Logan’s Run vision of the future – where we all live in megacities to better manage dwindling resources – might not appeal to all, he admits. “But you don’t even have to do the experiment. You only have to go to Singapore. You could not have chosen a worse climate in which to build a city. It’s a swamp with temperatures in the 90s every day, and very humid. But it is one of the most successful cities in the world. It seems to me that they are treading the path that we are all going to go. It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world. It’s a much better route to go than so-called ‘sustainable development’, which is meaningless drivel.”

I am amazed. The father of Gaia just said sustainable development is meaningless drivel. Lovelock concludes with:

Whenever the UN puts its finger in, it seems to become a mess. The burden of my thoughts are very much that the climate situation is more complex than we at present are capable of handling, or possibly even in the future.

Exit question: If the “burden of your thoughts” are very much that the climate situation is so complex that we aren’t capable of handling it, why aren’t you willing to consider that it is so complex we aren’t capable of understanding it in the first place?

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