Scary article on James Lovelock

My friend Kim passed this along to me the other day, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I’m not sure if it ran in Rolling Stone‘s magazine, or just on its website. Anyway, considering the fact that this man is a respected scientist, his theories (or rather predictions) really freak me out. Here are a few excerpts from the article, which you can read in its entirety HERE.

By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world’s top scientists. ‘Our future,’ Lovelock writes, ‘is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail.’ And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won’t save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won’t make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. ‘Green,’ he tells me, only half-joking, ‘is the color of mold and corruption.’

Until recently, Lovelock thought that global warming would be just like his half-assed forest — something the planet would correct for. Then, in 2004, Lovelock’s friend Richard Betts, a researcher at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change — England’s top climate institute — invited him to stop by and talk with the scientists there. Lovelock went from meeting to meeting, hearing the latest data about melting ice at the poles, shrinking rain forests, the carbon cycle in the oceans. ‘It was terrifying,’ he recalls. ‘We were shown five separate scenes of positive feedback in regional climates — polar, glacial, boreal forest, tropical forest and oceans — but no one seemed to be working on whole-planet consequences.’ Equally chilling, he says, was the tone in which the scientists talked about the changes they were witnessing, ‘as if they were discussing some distant planet or a model universe, instead of the place where we all live.’

Lovelock’s doomsday scenario is dismissed by leading climate researchers, most of whom dispute the idea that there is a single tipping point for the entire planet. ‘Individual ecosystems may fail or the ice sheets may collapse,’ says Caldeira, ‘but the larger system appears to be surprisingly resilient.’ But let’s assume for the moment that Lovelock is right and we are indeed poised above Niagara Falls. Do we just wave as we go over the edge? In Lovelock’s view, modest cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions won’t help us — it’s too late to stop global warming by swapping our SUVs for hybrids. What about capturing carbon-dioxide pollution from coal plants and pumping it underground? ‘We can’t possibly bury enough to make any difference.’ Biofuels? ‘A monumentally stupid idea.’ Renewables? ‘Nice, but won’t make a dent.’ To Lovelock, the whole idea of sustainable development is wrongheaded: ‘We should be thinking about sustainable retreat.’

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