Image: BBC Lovelock Interview
James Lovelock, the scientist who put forth the Gaia Theory, has told the BBC it is too late for us to save the planet. According to Gaia Theory, the entire earth is a single organism, connected and interactive. Only just over a month ago, Lovelock called for authoritarian intervention while questioning whether humans are clever enough to respond correctly to the complexities of global warming.
In this newest interview, the perpetual pessimist seems to have made his peace with the inevitable, perhaps even with the end of mankind (though not the planet). With typical intellectual acuteness, Lovelock delivers some thought provoking observations on the evolution of science, on climate modeling and on human responsibility in the face of a warming planet. We may not embrace what he says, but we must understand it.Lovelock's opinions over several decades have often challenged the status quo and frequently angered or annoyed both friends and foes. But quite often, his predictions have proven accurate. The messenger merits attention...but is this the right messsage?
Lovelock reviews the earth's history of maintaining homeostasis even as temperatures jolted through various peaks and troughs:
We are forcing it to move to one of the bit more stable states, which is a hot state. And once it starts moving, it takes charge and things will start to happen. It will put gases in the air, like methane and carbon dioxide, in huge quantities...far larger than we put in. And when that takes place, then it warms up.
Lovelock exculpates mankind, noting that we did not know what we were doing. But we have "pulled the trigger," and the implications of what has been done are only now becoming clear to us.
Lovelock may not be right about the door to action slamming closed. But his observations on two other points hit center target. First, he notes the history of global temperatures is not a smooth curve. The predictions of climate models naturally rely on statistical projections that can only foresee relatively smooth curves. One thing is certain: the planet will not warm in the ways our models predict.
This observation does not make the models worthless. They are one important tool in our attempts to understand our environment. But they are crude and simple tools, nothing compared to the complexity of the real Gaia system. We must not let hubris blind us to the potential failings of our simple science.
On the topic of science, Lovelock spells out one of the greatest tragedies for anyone enamored of the objective search for truth:
It used to be a vocation... You did it almost as a calling. You had your own discipline and rules of behavior. When I started science, most scientists would consider it a sin against the Holy Ghost to fudge data. But the moment that it became a career job, which it did during the last century, then... if you are under pressure, and your job depended on your producing the right results, you tended to adjust the data...to fit what your bosses wanted.
If democracy fails to address the challenges facing mankind, it will be because the public cannot trust the evidence and admonitions of those with proof. The loss of science's reputation may be a small tragedy in the face of the potential devastation of civilization as we know it, but it is the seed of downfall. Even when he drives us crazy, Lovelock gets it right. Again.
More on Lovelock:
James Lovelock Says Humans 'Not Clever Enough' to Stop Climate Change
Quote of the Day: James Lovelock on Geoengineering & The "Practice of Planetary Medicine"
James Lovelock's One Last Chance to Save Humanity From Climate Change: Burying Large Amounts of Charcoal in the Ground