Nobody cares about climate change…

March 31, 2010

… because of stupid things like this. Seriously? Anybody who calls
for a suspension of the worlds' democracies in order to fight climate
change is an idiot. Don't get me wrong — it'd take that (and more) to
actually do anything about it. But the rational response to that
scenario isn't to call for the impossible (and thus brand yourself
irrational), but to say "There's probably nothing humanity can do to
stave off climate change, so let's just plan on it occurring and prepare."

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting
on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of
James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and
independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.

It follows a tumultuous few months in which public opinion on efforts to
tackle climate change has been undermined by events such as the climate
scientists' emails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and
the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit.

"I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough
to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his
first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last
November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do
anything meaningful."

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy",
he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war
approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a
feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may
be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Lovelock, 90, believes the world's best hope is to invest in adaptation
measures, such as building sea defences around the cities that are most
vulnerable to sea-level rises. He thinks only a catastrophic event would
now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously
enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica, such as
the Pine Island glacier, which would immediately push up sea level.

"That would be the sort of event that would change public opinion," he
said. "Or a return of the dust bowl in the mid-west. Another
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report won't be enough.
We'll just argue over it like now." The IPCC's 2007 report concluded
that there was a 90% chance that greenhouse gas emissions from human
activities are causing global warming, but the panel has been criticised
over a mistaken claim that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2030.

Lovelock says the events of the recent months have seen him warming to
the efforts of the "good" climate sceptics: "What I like about sceptics
is that in good science you need critics that make you think: 'Crumbs,
have I made a mistake here?' If you don't have that continuously, you
really are up the creek. The good sceptics have done a good service, but
some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours. You need
sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic."

Lovelock, who 40 years ago originated the idea that the planet is a
giant, self-regulating organism – the so-called Gaia theory – added that
he has little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA
email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – "I felt
reluctant to pry" – but that their reported content had left him feeling
"utterly disgusted".

"Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against
the holy ghost of science," he said. "I'm not religious, but I put it
that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever
do. You've got to have standards."


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