Posts Tagged ‘James Lovelock’

James Lovelock: You Ask The Questions

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

– Here’s a question and answer session with James Lovelock.  Well worth a read.

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The eminent scientist answers your questions, such as ‘Is the Earth really a living organism?’ and ‘Why do you like nuclear power?’

I have heard that the Gaia theory means that the Earth is alive. What does that mean, exactly? Roger Middleton, Chester

The Earth system (Gaia) shares many attributes with a living cell; it metabolises, it responds to changes in its environment, it can die, and it reduces its internal entropy by taking in high quantum energy as sunlight and excreting infra-red radiation to space. It does not reproduce, but something that has lived about 3 billion years hardly needs to reproduce; selection theory asserts that organisms reproduce at a rate reciprocally related to their lifespan. Gaia’s reproduction rate would therefore be expected to be less than one in three billion years.

Some scientists say that your suggestions for geoengineering sea algae will never work. Is it just pie in the sky? Guy Brewer, Nottingham

Those who claim that encouraging algal growth in the ocean will not reduce CO2 abundance in the air might be right, but they do not know for sure. Their arguments are based on calculations using theoretical models and not, as they should be in science, on observation and experiment. Evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and from ocean sediments suggests that algal growth was more abundant in the ice ages. We also know from Antarctic ice core data that the low temperatures of the ice age were closely associated with low CO2. It reached as low as 180 parts per million, and this requires powerful biological pumps. What better than those of the abundant ocean algae?


– research thanks to Robin S.

The fight to get aboard Lifeboat UK

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

– James Lovelock, again, tells it like it is.  What he says here is what I’ve felt for a long time without being able to articulate it nearly so well as he has.  Indeed, it is why I’ve secured the right of permanent residency in New Zealand; as a hedge against the future he’s painting.

– I see people drawing word pictures of the world around us at all levels.   The local and the mundane, the national and the global.   But most of their pictures are fragments at best; partial renderings of realities far more complex and dark than they’ve drawn or imagined.

– Lovelock paints the canvas behind all their canvases.   They are, perhaps, the projected moving pictures on the screen.  Whereas, his is the screen upon which theirs cavort.  In rings speak, ‘One vision to rule them all’.

– There are big changes, nearly unimaginably big changes, coming.   And most of us, if we are not in denial, are engaged in building sandcastles in a losing battle to stem the sea.   His analogies about 1939 are so apt.   And time is getting so late.

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Last week she played in the snow, but what will Britain be like when she grows up? James Lovelock, the Earth guru, foresees a land where blizzards are long forgotten and national survival depends on a new Winston Churchill

When someone discovers, too late, that they are suffering from a serious and probably incurable disease and may have no more than six months to live, their first response is shock and then, in denial, they angrily try any cure on offer or go to practitioners of alternative medicine. Finally, if wise, they reach a state of calm acceptance. They know death need not be feared and that no one escapes it.

Scientists who recognise the truth about the Earth’s condition advise their governments of its deadly seriousness in the manner of a physician. We are now seeing the responses. First was denial at all levels, then the desperate search for a cure. Just as we as individuals try alternative medicine, so our governments have many offers from alternative business and their lobbies of sustainable ways to “save the planet”, and from some green hospice there may come the anodyne of hope.

Should you doubt that this grim prospect is real, let me remind you of the forces now taking the Earth to the hothouse: these include the increasing abundance of greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture, including gases from natural ecosystems damaged by global heating in the Arctic and the tropics. The vast ocean ecosystems that used to pump down carbon dioxide can no longer do so because the ocean turns to desert as it warms and grows more acidic; then there is the extra absorption of the sun’s radiant heat as white reflecting snow melts and is replaced by dark ground or ocean.

Each separate increase adds heat and together they amplify the warming that we cause. The power of this combination and the inability of the Earth now to resist it is what forces me to see the efforts made to stabilise carbon dioxide and temperature as no better than planetary alternative medicine.

Do not be misled by lulls in climate change when global temperature is constant for a few years or even, as we have seen in the UK in the past week, appears to drop and people ask: where is global warming now?

However unlikely it sometimes seems, change really is happening and the Earth grows warmer year by year. But do not expect the climate to follow the smooth path of slowly but sedately rising temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where change slowly inches up and leaves plenty of time for business as usual. The real Earth changes by fits and starts, with spells of constancy, even slight decline, between the jumps to greater heat. It is ever more at risk of changing to a barren state in which few of us can survive.

The high-sounding and well-meaning visions of the European Union of “saving the planet” and developing sustainably by using only “natural” energy might have worked in 1800 when there were only a billion of us, but now they are a wholly impractical luxury we can ill afford.


– research thanks, again, to Robin S.