19 Jan 2006
Lovelock speaks – “Basically, we’re f*&%ed”.
Well he didn’t quite say that, but he did say, *”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”*, which amounts to much the same thing. His article in Monday’s Independent newspaper, ‘The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years’, was extremely sobering reading. His argument was that climate change is now so advanced, and that all the feedback mechanisms are kicking in such as permafrost melting and global dimming, that we are actually beyond the point of no return. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth in a piece called “There is no reason to despair” finds himself in the unfamiliar position of having to tell us all that actually things aren’t as bad as all that, and that we can still turn it around.
For me, beyond the huge slap round-the-jowls-wake-up call that Lovelock’s piece offers, I was fascinated to read the following three paragraphs;
>Unfortunately our nation 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 could grow enough to feed ourselves on the diet of the Second World War, but the notion that there is land to spare to grow biofuels, or be the site of wind farms, is ludicrous. We will do our best to survive, but sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of emissions. The worst will happen and survivors will have to adapt to a hell of a climate.
It was good to see, after his recent pronouncements that we have to go nuclear, that the business-as-usual scenario is no longer an option for him and that he can see the need to downscale society. The big question is, and it is one that I am exploring at the moment, how do we motivate millions of people from their consensus trance to begin the reponse to climate change or peak oil or whatever symptom of our addiction to oil you choose to focus on? Lester Brown in his book ‘Plan B’ argues that the only response possible is a mobilisation on the scale of that that they US undertook at the start of World War Two. Lovelock touched on this in another interview with The Guardian just before Christmas called Paramedic to the Planet, where he said;
>”one of the awful things I find today is that young people come to me and ask if there is any hope. Of course there’s hope. At the moment, we are just waiting as we were in the 30s, when everyone knew war was coming but no one knew what to do about it. The moment the war started, we knew that the prospect was pretty awful, but there was a wonderful sense of purpose. There were no consumer goods and food was strictly rationed. We never considered that time hopeless. When climate change gets bad, then there will be excitement, and that’s the payoff. As Crispin Tickell said, what we need is leadership – and disaster”.
I have just been looking for but can’t find, a link to the research Colin Campbell did with the people at Uppsala University, which looked at the figures for climate change put forward by the IPCC in formulating their scenarios, an argued that there simply isn’t enough oil to reach those concentrations of CO2. Certainly climate change is dire, and is yet another reason why we have to jump and get to work, but I still hold ultimately we have no way of knowing whether we will make it or not, what is important is that we try, and that we work with a good heart and an ethic of serving others to pull our friends, families, neighbours and communities into the redesigning of our world. I take great heart from peak oil and climate change.
It is akin to a dear friend who is out of control with addiction, abusive behaviour and self obsession, who is told that they have a cancer and need to change their way of doing things and now (a metaphor explored in more depth here). I watched the Real Oil Crisis film with Emma last night and at the end she said “how wonderful that the oil is running out, surely it’s a blessing”, and it is true, in that although it will be extraordinarily hard, it is far preferable to things continuing as they are, particularly thinking of climate change. This is the Great Adventure of our times, rolling up our sleeves and attempting to build Eden here and now. Then at least if we end up as one of Lovelock’s few ‘breeding pairs’ in the Arctic, we will be able to say we tried (admittedly not great consolation as you tuck into another penguin).
19 Jan 5:19pm
I found the following link on the New Scientist web site relating to, I think, the research by Colin Campbell and Uppsala University that you mentioned. Other searches seem to lead to this link – http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4216 .
20 Jan 8:59am
I think its important to keep an open mind about this. After all, we cannot say with any certainty what the outcome will be. Maybe Lovelock is right or maybe he’s wrong. Maybe its just another ego trip. After all only a few years ago he was advocating re stoking up the nuclear power stations. Now, presumably, he isn’t! Perhpas in a few years time scientists will be saying something different again. Personally I do feel that irreversable and quite possibly catastrophic climate change seems quite likely. But that isn’t a reason for not trying to bring us back from the brink. By the way Rob, you wont be tucking into your penguin stew at the Arctic. They live at the other end of the planet, and quite possibly they will be extinct even before us if Lovelocks apocalypse comes to pass.
20 Jan 9:06am
Damn. Seagull and lichen stew then perhaps?
20 Jan 12:51pm
Yes but I think that the point is to emphasize where we should put our resources: campaigning for reduction in fossil fuels per se will not help if, as Lovelock believes, runaway climate change is inevitable. His unpalatable message is that we cannot stop potentially catastrophic climate change, and therefore should divert all our resources to surviving in a drastically changed world with wildly fluctuating and unpredictable climate.I dont see any reason to dismiss this as an ego trip. After all Rob’s site is now so huge that anyone who posts a comment here about anything must be on one themselves!!
20 Jan 6:55pm
I, too, worry that people will find all these headlines too much and will just switch off. I’m getting people telling me that they’re going to ‘fly while I still can’, i.e., party hard while the ship goes down. Bringing climate change and peak oil together gives us the reason to not waste precious resources on unnecessary things.
We’ve got to get as many people to organize locally as possible, making sure they use ecopsychology to support people, and then this may create a groundswell for a government-backed/supported ‘powering down’.
20 Jan 9:14pm
I have to say that I think Lovelock’s gone off the rails just a little bit on this one. I mean, when he writes
“the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”
Well, I don’t know about the Arctic, but I can name an awful lot of other places on earth that would be much nicer if they were 5 or even 8°C hotter (and with more trees, maybe): Tibet, the Himalaya, the Andes, most of Siberia, high mountains (Alps, Pyrenees), a lot of Scandinavia, even the highlands of Scotland will end up being rather like the Canary Islands, I imagine.
(See map at
Remember 200 metres of altitude (or 3 degrees of latitude) equals approximately 1°C of temperature. If you start looking at how much land there is above 1000m, you find that it’s actually quite a lot.
Granted, you couldn’t squeeze 6 billion people into those places easily, but really, “a few breeding pairs?”
That’s assuming the worst, of course. But what do we have to gain by assuming the worst? Why not plan for a range of possible outcomes? Start planting subtropical fruit trees!
I see this article as doom-mongering and, to be blunt, self-promotion too, since he has got a new book out. Sorry if this sounds like sacrilege to anyone — I mean, Lovelock is a great man, I would be the
first to admit that, but… read the last line of the article:
“The Revenge of Gaia’ is published by Penguin on 2 February.”
21 Jan 9:19am
Just to point out again that it is not GLOBAL WARMING per se that will be the problem, but wildly fluctuating and unpredictable CLIMATE CHANGE with increased extremes. It is simply misinformed to imagine a kind of gradually warming climate which we simply adapt to by wearing les clothes, or growing tropical fruit- although there is indeed a general trend of migration of warmer-climate species north. Places like Tibet or the Himalayas will become increasingly difficult to support even small populations as glaciers melt- compromising fresh water supplies, dams are likely to burst, and unpredictable weather makes it increasingly difficult to grow crops. This last issue is perhaps the most concerning in terms of the effect of climate change- agriculture everywhere is likely to become more difficult and yields uncertain. Use of new more adaptable crops m,ay help but given the near total dependence on high yied high-inout industrial crops is unlikely to help more than a few.
Of course we should still do everything we can to help the situation, organise locally, grow food locally where we can and so on.But Lovelock is just trying to tell it how he ses it- dont shoot the messenger!
23 Apr 12:31pm
see my blog for polar city planning NOW!