Thursday, March 09, 2006

More on the Silence of the Press

This came from Media Lens.

The following pretty much points the finger at the main cause for the lack of press coverage. I believe the situation that's described in the UK has a far more intense counterpart here in these United States.

Media Lens is watching the press in Britain and elsewhere, and offering criticism, by turns constructive and embarassing, if not shaming. The point here is that publishing the Lovelock article, and placing it in the context of ads from major contributors to Global Warming is (unwillingly perhaps) hypocritical. The denial of ad revenue is the big club of all those who want business-as-usual, "just a little longer" (and then they'll clean up??). You see they really do want to support the right thing, they just don't want their support to impact their ability to own more stuff, including politicians. Old joke: "Prosperity is spending money you don't have to buy things you don't need to impress people you don't like" I might add, "before the apocalypse starts".

January 16, 2006
Where James Lovelock Meets BP

Billions Will Die
The Independent and the Independent on Sunday (IoS) pride themselves on their environmental coverage. No doubt their editors will indicate today's dramatic front page as a case in point. The paper depicts the Earth from space overlaid by a dramatic headline: 'Green guru says: We are past the point of no return.' (Independent, January 16, 2006)

Scientist James Lovelock - who conceived the idea of the living Earth as a great super-organism, 'Gaia' - argues that, as a result of climate change, humanity is "past the point of no return" such that "civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive". (Michael McCarthy, 'Attempts to counter global warming are already doomed to failure, says Lovelock,' The Independent, January 16, 2006)

In an article which he describes as "the most difficult I have written", Lovelock predicts utter catastrophe for humankind:

"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... 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 [CO2] emissions. The worst will happen..." (Lovelock, 'The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years,' The Independent, January 16, 2006)

Although Lovelock is here going beyond the scientific consensus - represented most authoritatively by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - there is evidence aplenty to support his argument. So how did we get to this point without the media even questioning the economic and political system that has now, if Lovelock is correct, pushed us over the edge of the abyss?

A clue is provided by the Independent's online version of environment editor Michael McCarthy's report. Here ( readers are confronted by an ad from BP: "It's time to listen". Also visible is an advert for long-distance flights to the Seychelles in association with Emirates airlines. As the environment journalist who pointed this out to us today said: "You couldn't make this stuff up!" If we are to die, it seems that the Independent would rather we die laughing.

That government and big business have perpetrated climate crimes against humanity is never news. Instead, a collective insanity of irresponsible despair or suffocating silence rules the media. This extends even to those editors, journalists and newspapers that the public has been persuaded to trust.

Readers have now, however, started challenging the Independent for accepting fossil fuel advertising revenue. IoS deputy editor Michael Williams observed last year that some readers had praised environment editor Geoffrey Lean's reports on global warming. Alas, Williams added, "it was soured by some of you who wrote to say that it was hypocritical of us to accept advertisements from car manufacturers in the same issue of the paper". (Williams, 'Legal, decent, honest - but how green?', Independent on Sunday, February 13, 2005)

The deputy editor quoted a reader who urged the paper to "reconsider the policy of accepting advertisements from the very people who are helping to create the disaster".

Williams dismissed the idea out of hand: "I'm afraid this view is as impractical as it is naive." He added that if a ban were placed on car company advertising, for example, "we would have to raise our cover price to more than double that of our competitors, with the likelihood that we would go out of business".

End of argument! Much the same 'facts of life' were deployed by editors previously reluctant to give up lucrative tobacco advertising. (Note: we have addressed the issue of media alternatives in our alerts of May 27 and June 2, 2004; see

The IoS deputy editor concluded:

"For the national newspaper which has won by far the greatest number of awards for environmental campaigning over the past few years, that might be a bit of an own goal."

[Ed. note - means scoring a point against yoursef in your own soccer net]

To his credit, Williams has since referred briefly to the notion of "carbon rationing" - with everyone having an equal right to emit greenhouse gases - an idea that has been promoted by environmentalist Mayer Hillman. (Williams, 'No, our green principles have not taken flight,' The Independent on Sunday, January 15, 2006)

It remains to be seen whether the paper will link this proposal to the overarching framework of contraction and convergence (see 'Is the Earth Really Finished', March 1, 2005; Moreover, the paper's refusal to question the planet-threatening paradigm of economic 'growth' is as glaring as ever.

Certainly, the IoS environment editor himself does not take kindly to being challenged on his - and his paper's - failure to tackle the root economic and political causes of climate change. Geoffrey Lean told one reader:

"Why don't you really read what we have been writing over the years rather than relying on media lens?" (Lean, email, February 18, 2005)

Other media professionals are equally blinkered. Observer editor, Roger Alton, for example:

"For Christ's sake, whatever you say about Mr Blair, nobody could accuse him of not doing his bit over the complex issue of climate change. He has boosted the science budget, given much funding to climate research, and we take Kyoto seriously." (Email, forwarded, May 21, 2004)

And Ian Mayes - the scrupulously independent ombudsman at the Guardian - responded sharply to one Media Lens reader's criticism of the limits to that newspaper's environmental reporting:

"you know quite well that the Guardian probably does more on the environment than anyone. Yet you continue to participate in a lobby [sic] that wilfully denies it. Why?" (Email, forwarded, May 24, 2004)

Why? Are these people mad?! When editors and journalists issue such dismissive responses with such conviction, it is indeed tempting to doubt one's sanity. Have we in fact got it horribly wrong? Are sceptical members of the public simply deluded? Is the 'quality' press really doing as much on climate change as can reasonably be expected? Green Euro MP, Caroline Lucas, accurately sums up the horrific reality:

"The mainstream corporate media all too often shares the same vested interests as the governments and businesses whose activities make up the content of its coverage... The public cannot rely on the corporate media to provide an honest and impartial view of corporate responsibility for crimes against humanity and the environment." (Email to David Cromwell, January 25, 2005)

These are elementary truths that cannot be mentioned, never mind discussed, in any meaningful way in the corporate news media.


The phrase 'can of worms' comes to mind. We deperately need to solve a problem that we can't talk about publicly in the mainstream press, for fear of stepping on the corporate toes that fund the press, but whose practices exacerbate the warming. More money comes to publishers as income from advertising than from sales of the final product. Lose enough advertisers, you lose profit and might lose the whole message. Alternately, lose advertisers, raise prices, lose readers and maybe lose the whole message.

The web is some kind of counterforce, since so much can be said without costing money. But getting exposure for the message on the big portals (like MSN, AOL, or Yahoo etc) is hard, since they are based on advertising profits as well. So the brainstorm challenge, one of them, is to find a sellable worldview that can keep some economic wheels turning without selling products that turn resources into taxic waste. There are imaginative people doing this creating, and they have good products, but they will have a hard time getting the attention of the NASCAR set. Insuficient testosterone roar, inadequate vampy allure.

Statement of Joint Science Academies

Here's the statement from the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world.

Joint science academies' statement: Global response to climate change

Climate change is real

There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system
as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now
strong evidence that significant global warming is
occurring . The evidence comes from direct measurements
of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean
temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in
average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes
to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that
most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed
to human activities (IPCC 2001) . This warming has already
led to changes in the Earth's climate.
The existence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is
vital to life on Earth – in their absence average
temperatures would be about 30 centigrade degrees lower
than they are today. But human activities are now causing
atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases –
including carbon dioxide, methane, tropospheric ozone,
and nitrous oxide – to rise well above pre-industrial levels.
Carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in
1750 to over 375 ppm today – higher than any previous
levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000
years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing
temperatures to rise; the Earth’s surface warmed by
approximately 0.6 centigrade degrees over the twentieth
century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) projected that the average global surface
temperatures will continue to increase to between 1.4
centigrade degrees and 5.8 centigrade degrees above 1990
levels, by 2100.

Reduce the causes of climate change

The scientific understanding of climate change is now
sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action. It
is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they
can take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term
reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.
Action taken now to reduce significantly the build-up of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lessen the
magnitude and rate of climate change. As the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) recognises, a lack of full scientific certainty
about some aspects of climate change is not a reason for
delaying an immediate response that will, at a reasonable
cost, prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with
the climate system.
As nations and economies develop over the next 25 years,
world primary energy demand is estimated to increase by
almost 60%. Fossil fuels, which are responsible for the
majority of carbon dioxide emissions produced by human
activities, provide valuable resources for many nations and are
projected to provide 85% of this demand (IEA 2004) .
Minimising the amount of this carbon dioxide reaching the
atmosphere presents a huge challenge. There are many
potentially cost-effective technological options that could
contribute to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations.
These are at various stages of research and development.
However barriers to their broad deployment still need to be
Carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for many
decades. Even with possible lowered emission rates we will
be experiencing the impacts of climate change throughout
st the 21 century and beyond. Failure to implement
significant reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions
now, will make the job much harder in the future.

Prepare for the consequences of climate change

Major parts of the climate system respond slowly to
changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. Even if
greenhouse gas emissions were stabilised instantly at
today’s levels, the climate would still continue to change as
it adapts to the increased emission of recent decades.
Further changes in climate are therefore unavoidable.
Nations must prepare for them.
The projected changes in climate will have both beneficial
and adverse effects at the regional level, for example on
water resources, agriculture, natural ecosystems and
human health. The larger and faster the changes in
climate, the more likely it is that adverse effects will
dominate. Increasing temperatures are likely to increase the
frequency and severity of weather events such as heat
waves and heavy rainfall. Increasing temperatures could
lead to large-scale effects such as melting of large ice
sheets (with major impacts on low-lying regions
throughout the world). The IPCC estimates that the
combined effects of ice melting and sea water expansion
from ocean warming are projected to cause the global
mean sea-level to rise by between 0.1 and 0.9 metres
between 1990 and 2100. In Bangladesh alone, a 0.5 metre
sea-level rise would place about 6 million people at risk
from flooding.
Developing nations that lack the infrastructure or resources
to respond to the impacts of climate change will be
particularly affected. It is clear that many of the world’s
poorest people are likely to suffer the most from climate
change. Long-term global efforts to create a more healthy,
prosperous and sustainable world may be severely hindered
by changes in the climate.
The task of devising and implementing strategies to adapt
to the consequences of climate change will require
worldwide collaborative inputs from a wide range of
experts, including physical and natural scientists, engineers,
social scientists, medical scientists, those in the humanities,
business leaders and economists.


We urge all nations, in the line with the UNFCCC
principles , to take prompt action to reduce the causes of
climate change, adapt to its impacts and ensure that the
issue is included in all relevant national and international
strategies. As national science academies, we commit to
working with governments to help develop and implement
the national and international response to the challenge of
climate change.
G8 nations have been responsible for much of the past
greenhouse gas emissions. As parties to the UNFCCC, G8
nations are committed to showing leadership in addressing
climate change and assisting developing nations to meet
the challenges of adaptation and mitigation.
We call on world leaders, including those meeting at the
Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 2005, to:

· Acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear
and increasing.
· Launch an international study to explore scientifically-
informed targets for atmospheric greenhouse gas
concentrations, and their associated emissions scenarios,
that will enable nations to avoid impacts deemed
· Identify cost-effective steps that can be taken now to
contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net
global greenhouse gas emissions. Recognise that delayed
action will increase the risk of adverse environmental
effects and will likely incur a greater cost.
· Work with developing nations to build a scientific and
technological capacity best suited to their circumstances,
enabling them to develop innovative solutions to mitigate
and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, while
explicitly recognising their legitimate development rights.
· Show leadership in developing and deploying clean
energy technologies and approaches to energy efficiency,
and share this knowledge with all other nations.
· Mobilise the science and technology community to
enhance research and development efforts, which can
better inform climate change decisions.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Silence of the Press

The previous two posts would indicate to a sane person that there was a big problem. I mean a really big problem. Most of the press coverage I'm finding for climate change is coming from the UK, and parts of the European Union, for instance Reuters. Here's one from our home turf, and it's about the silence of the press. If Global Warming findings made it to the front page of US newspapers, stated in a way that the majorityof the public could understand, our dismal, dreadful, and dire ignorance of the course we're on might start to fade. Why isn't that happening?

Another find on Common Dreams

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Published on Wednesday, January 18, 2006 by the Washington Post
Is It Warm in Here? We Could Be Ignoring the Biggest Story in Our History
by David Ignatius

One of the puzzles if you're in the news business is figuring out what's "news." The fate of your local football team certainly fits the definition. So does a plane crash or a brutal murder. But how about changes in the migratory patterns of butterflies?

Scientists believe that new habitats for butterflies are early effects of global climate change -- but that isn't news, by most people's measure. Neither is declining rainfall in the Amazon, or thinner ice in the Arctic. We can't see these changes in our personal lives, and in that sense, they are abstractions. So they don't grab us the way a plane crash would -- even though they may be harbingers of a catastrophe that could, quite literally, alter the fundamentals of life on the planet. And because they're not "news," the environmental changes don't prompt action, at least not in the United States.

What got me thinking about the recondite life rhythms of the planet, and not the 24-hour news cycle, was a recent conversation with a scientist named Thomas E. Lovejoy, who heads the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. When I first met Lovejoy nearly 20 years ago, he was trying to get journalists like me to pay attention to the changes in the climate and biological diversity of the Amazon. He is still trying, but he's beginning to wonder if it's too late.

Lovejoy fears that changes in the Amazon's ecosystem may be irreversible. Scientists reported last month that there is an Amazonian drought apparently caused by new patterns in Atlantic currents that, in turn, are similar to projected climate change. With less rainfall, the tropical forests are beginning to dry out. They burn more easily, and, in the continuous feedback loops of their ecosystem, these drier forests return less moisture to the atmosphere, which means even less rain. When the forest trees are deprived of rain, their mortality can increase by a factor of six, and similar devastation affects other species, too.

"When do you wreck it as a system?" Lovejoy wonders. "It's like going up to the edge of a cliff, not really knowing where it is. Common sense says you shouldn't discover where the edge is by passing over it, but that's what we're doing with deforestation and climate change."

Lovejoy first went to the Amazon 40 years ago as a young scientist of 23. It was a boundless wilderness, the size of the continental United States, but at that time it had just 2 million people and one main road. He has returned more than a hundred times, assembling over the years a mental time-lapse photograph of how this forest primeval has been affected by man. The population has increased tenfold, and the wilderness is now laced with roads, new settlements and economic progress. The forest itself, impossibly rich and lush when Lovejoy first saw it, is changing.

For Lovejoy, who co-edited a pioneering 1992 book, "Global Warming and Biological Diversity," there is a deep sense of frustration. A crisis he and other scientists first sensed more than two decades ago is drifting toward us in what seems like slow motion, but fast enough that it may be impossible to mitigate the damage.

The best reporting of the non-news of climate change has come from Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. Her three-part series last spring lucidly explained the harbingers of potential disaster: a shrinking of Arctic sea ice by 250 million acres since 1979; a thawing of the permafrost for what appears to be the first time in 120,000 years; a steady warming of Earth's surface temperature; changes in rainfall patterns that could presage severe droughts of the sort that destroyed ancient civilizations. This month she published a new piece, "Butterfly Lessons," that looked at how these delicate creatures are moving into new habitats as the planet warms. Her real point was that all life, from microorganisms to human beings, will have to adapt, and in ways that could be dangerous and destabilizing.

So many of the things that pass for news don't matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as Lovejoy and Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." She's right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tipping Points, Aerosols and Albedo

One of the terms that comes up in talk of climate change is "tipping point". The idea is that some processes can worsen but still be reversed if public policy and private behavior made adequate changes. At some point the reversing option disappears, and the situation develops a momentum towards more rapid and more negative change. Where those tipping points are (there are several) is a matter of theoretical speculation, based on still evolving mathamatical models and historical research. There's lots of argument over what things are tipping point phenomena, where exactly the numbers indicate that it becomes active, and then whether the data indicate that we've reached the point, or whether there is still room to remedy the trend. The following article is an example of tipping point thinking. Although I find it alarming (this is an alarmist blog on purpose) I got some feedback that indicated that full-blown despair wasn't called for yet. See the comments at the end of the article. This was also picked up on Common Dreams.

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Published on Saturday, February 11, 2006 by the lndependent/UK
Global Warming: Passing the 'Tipping Point'
Our special investigation reveals that critical rise in world temperatures is now unavoidable
by Michael McCarthy

A crucial global warming "tipping point" for the Earth, highlighted only last week by the British Government, has already been passed, with devastating consequences.

Research commissioned by The Independent reveals that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has now crossed a threshold, set down by scientists from around the world at a conference in Britain last year, beyond which really dangerous climate change is likely to be unstoppable.

The implication is that some of global warming's worst predicted effects, from destruction of ecosystems to increased hunger and water shortages for billions of people, cannot now be avoided, whatever we do. It gives considerable force to the contention by the green guru Professor James Lovelock, put forward last month in The Independent, that climate change is now past the point of no return.

The danger point we are now firmly on course for is a rise in global mean temperatures to 2 degrees above the level before the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

At the moment, global mean temperatures have risen to about 0.6 degrees above the pre-industrial era - and worrying signs of climate change, such as the rapid melting of the Arctic ice in summer, are already increasingly evident. But a rise to 2 degrees would be far more serious.

By that point it is likely that the Greenland ice sheet will already have begun irreversible melting, threatening the world with a sea-level rise of several metres. Agricultural yields will have started to fall, not only in Africa but also in Europe, the US and Russia, putting up to 200 million more people at risk from hunger, and up to 2.8 billion additional people at risk of water shortages for both drinking and irrigation. The Government's conference on Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, held at the UK Met Office in Exeter a year ago, highlighted a clear threshold in the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which should not be surpassed if the 2 degree point was to be avoided with "relatively high certainty".

This was for the concentration of CO2 and other gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, taken together in their global warming effect, to stay below 400ppm (parts per million) in CO2 terms - or in the jargon, the "equivalent concentration" of CO2 should remain below that level.

The warning was highlighted in the official report of the Exeter conference, published last week. However, an investigation by The Independent has established that the CO2 equivalent concentration, largely unnoticed by the scientific and political communities, has now risen beyond this threshold.

This number is not a familiar one even among climate researchers, and is not readily available. For example, when we put the question to a very senior climate scientist, he said: "I would think it's definitely over 400 - probably about 420." So we asked one of the world's leading experts on the effects of greenhouse gases on climate, Professor Keith Shine, head of the meteorology department at the University of Reading, to calculate it precisely. Using the latest available figures (for 2004), his calculations show the equivalent concentration of C02, taking in the effects of methane and nitrous oxide at 2004 levels, is now 425ppm. This is made up of CO2 itself, at 379ppm; the global warming effect of the methane in the atmosphere, equivalent to another 40ppm of CO2; and the effect of nitrous oxide, equivalent to another 6ppm of CO2.

The tipping point warned about last week by the Government is already behind us.

"The passing of this threshold is of the most enormous significance," said Tom Burke, a former government adviser on the green issues, now visiting professor at Imperial College London. "It means we have actually entered a new era - the era of dangerous climate change. We have passed the point where we can be confident of staying below the 2 degree rise set as the threshold for danger. What this tells us is that we have already reached the point where our children can no longer count on a safe climate."

The scientist who chaired the Exeter conference, Dennis Tirpak, head of the climate change unit of the OECD in Paris, was even more direct. He said: "This means we will hit 2 degrees [as a global mean temperature rise]."

Professor Burke added: "We have very little time to act now. Governments must stop talking and start spending. We already have the technology to allow us to meet our growing need for energy while keeping a stable climate. We must deploy it now. Doing so will cost less than the Iraq war so we know we can afford it."

The 400ppm threshold is based on a paper given at Exeter by Malte Meinhausen of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Dr Meinhausen reviewed a dozen studies of the probability of exceeding the 2 degrees threshold at different CO2 equivalent levels. Taken together they show that only by remaining below 400 is there a very high chance of not doing so.

Some scientists have been reluctant to talk about the overall global warming effect of all the greenhouses gases taken together, because there is another consideration - the fact that the "aerosol", or band of dust in the atmosphere from industrial pollution, actually reduces the warming.

As Professor Shine stresses, there is enormous uncertainty about the degree to which this is happening, so making calculation of the overall warming effect problematic. However, as James Lovelock points out - and Professor Shine and other scientists accept - in the event of an industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, and then the effect of all the greenhouse gases taken together would suddenly be fully felt.

Copyright 2006 Independent News and Media Limited


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This seemed to second the opinion from Lovelock in the previous post. The current saving feature was the aerosol factor. Aerosols are tiny particulates which by themselves or by the condensation of water around them, aiding cloud formation, act as shading or reflecting elements in the atmosphere. Some of the sunlight striking them is reflected or radiated back into space before it can add to the heat load of the planet. The measure of the reflcting power is a number called Albedo. The aerosols are maintained by, mostly, industrial activity, along with the actions of wind, ocean spray, and forest fires, and other whatnot.

I sent the link for this article to the author of Real Climate, a blog aimed at climate scientists, which is fairly technical but even handed in the way of legitimate science, ie, not prone to jump to conclusions beyond what the data supports. That doesn't mean the self-serving skepticism of the oil companies; these folks definitely believe in human caused global warming, and are definitely urging cultural responses in the industrial, political, and life-style aspects etc of the problem. The author's response was that although the raw number was probably accurate, still the aerosol factor mitigated the panic.

If you read posts in Real Climate, it's vital to read the comments, which are as informative as the original texts.

Consider though: More violent weather means more dust and maybe more wave action. Forest fires are already on the increase, which is a cause of CO2 production. If industry etc becomes cleaner, its albedo (reflectivity) contribution will decrease. The trends run some up, some down and research on albedo is a focal topic in this desperate race to understand what's happening. But as Lovelock pointed out, some large part of the aerosol concentration could fall rapidly if there were an industrial turndown. Possibly 50% or more in a major global depression. I don't have a quantitative sense of the relative contribution of the various aerosol producers, I don't know if even ball-park numbers are available yet. Real Climate did have a recent post on albedo. I could even see back-room arguments that dirty industry is good since it protects the earth in a round-about way. But it seems both cynical and imprudent to grasp for a sense of safety based on continuing dirty industrial output.

What could cause a global depression? Aren't he economies booming? Think bird flu.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lovelock's Fever

This was the article that set off all my alarms. Lovelock is the co-inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis (along with Lynn Margulies). The Gaia Hypothesis states, briefly, that biological and geological processes together have through most of history maintained a stable set of conditions on Earth so that life might flourish. In ways it can be viewed as a strong metaphor that all planetary life processes act as a unified object very much like an organism. Lovelock is primarily an atmospheric chemist, and seems to have a larger overall grasp, both by intuition and in detail, of how the atmosphere behaves. Naturally his work has stirred controversy, and indignant protests that he's exceeding the limited conclusions that can be drawn by strict reductionistic science. The critics make some valid points, but don't diminish the respect he elicits as a man of great understanding and even wisdom.

The following article is copied exactly as I found it on the Common Dreams website. They have consistently had good coverage of current climate news, mixed in with their usual coverage of social and political issues.

Published on Monday, January 16, 2006 by the Independent

The Earth is About to Catch a Morbid Fever That May Last as Long as 100,000 Years
Each nation must find the best use of its resources to sustain civilization for as long as they can

by James Lovelock

Imagine a young policewoman delighted in the fulfilment of her vocation; then imagine her having to tell a family whose child had strayed that he had been found dead, murdered in a nearby wood. Or think of a young physician newly appointed who has to tell you that the biopsy revealed invasion by an aggressive metastasising tumour. Doctors and the police know that many accept the simple awful truth with dignity but others try in vain to deny it.

Whatever the response, the bringers of such bad news rarely become hardened to their task and some dread it. We have relieved judges of the awesome responsibility of passing the death sentence, but at least they had some comfort from its frequent moral justification. Physicians and the police have no escape from their duty.

This article is the most difficult I have written and for the same reasons. My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive, and clearly anything alive can enjoy good health, or suffer disease. Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news.

The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth's physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth's family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilization are in grave danger.

Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence. It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 percent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves.

Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space. This "global dimming" is transient and could disappear in a few days like the smoke that it is, leaving us fully exposed to the heat of the global greenhouse. We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and 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.

By failing to see that the Earth regulates its climate and composition, we have blundered into trying to do it ourselves, acting as if we were in charge. By doing this, we condemn ourselves to the worst form of slavery. If we chose to be the stewards of the Earth, then we are responsible for keeping the atmosphere, the ocean and the land surface right for life. A task we would soon find impossible - and something before we treated Gaia so badly, she had freely done for us.

To understand how impossible it is, think about how you would regulate your own temperature or the composition of your blood. Those with failing kidneys know the never-ending daily difficulty of adjusting water, salt and protein intake. The technological fix of dialysis helps, but is no replacement for living healthy kidneys.

My new book, "The Revenge of Gaia" expands these thoughts, but you still may ask why science took so long to recognize the true nature of the Earth. I think it is because Darwin's vision was so good and clear that it has taken until now to digest it. In his time, little was known about the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, and there would have been little reason for him to wonder if organisms changed their environment as well as adapting to it.

Had it been known then that life and the environment are closely coupled, Darwin would have seen that evolution involved not just the organisms, but the whole planetary surface. We might then have looked upon the Earth as if it were alive, and known that we cannot pollute the air or use the Earth's skin - its forest and ocean ecosystems - as a mere source of products to feed ourselves and furnish our homes. We would have felt instinctively that those ecosystems must be left untouched because they were part of the living Earth.

So what should we do? First, we have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act; and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can. Civilization is energy-intensive and we cannot turn it off without crashing, so we need the security of a powered descent. On these British Isles, we are used to thinking of all humanity and not just ourselves; environmental change is global, but we have to deal with the consequences here in the UK.

Unfortunately our nation is now so urbanized 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.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that Gaia will lose as much or more than we do. Not only will wildlife and whole ecosystems go extinct, but in human civilization the planet has a precious resource. We are not merely a disease; we are, through our intelligence and communication, the nervous system of the planet. Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space, and begins to know her place in the universe.

We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone, and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia. We must do it while we are still strong enough to negotiate, and not a broken rabble led by brutal war lords. Most of all, we should remember that we are a part of it, and it is indeed our home.

- - - - -

James Lovelock is an independent environmental scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society. "The Revenge of Gaia," scheduled for release February 2, 2006, is published by Penguin.

© 2006 The Independent


That sent me ino a tailspin. I had visions of social and cultural collapse. Those weren't so bad, certainly there were some good aspects, fewer people and fewer cars etc. That the people were starving to death was not an ideal way of reaching those goals. That many who starved were not the perps of the disaster was unjust beyond the workings of Karma, but somehow not surprising. That they would accept that fate without vengeance seemed unlikely. Gradually arming and increasingly desperate hordes of refugees following the possibility of food for their children and water for their dessicated parents. Met by those unable to help, but aware that they would soon share the fate stalking North. They would be impelled to resist, leading to the wars of the already refugee against the soon-to-be refugee.

Then the visions of biological breakdown started to fill in the details. I tended to think in terms of my familiar setting, small town and rural Eastern Hardwood Forest, Tallgrass Prairie, small hill-country farming landscapes. punctuated with commercial chicken houses and spreading development. I saw the woods dying from lack of rain and too much heat. The grass brown and folded. Piles of stinking dead chickens lost to heat wave induced power failures. Rivers drying, lakes shrinking inside block wide bath-tub rings. Water rationing, wells failing, cattle trucked away for lack of hay and water, not replaced.

Then the fires started. The end of 2005 had the evening news filled with footage of Oklahoma and other Midwestern locales burning, mostly grassland fires, something the prairie has been adapted to. But soon after the dying woods started burning as well, and the fires killed more weakened trees, which dropped more fuel for further rounds of fire. Repeated fires killed off the reproduction in the understory so that nothing was left to replace the lost trees. This is how the woods becomes grassland on its way to being desert, with a possible period of drier adapted pine woods. But the pines, even if they manage to sprout, won't have time to mature, and soon they burn as well. All the landscapes marching north, if they can move fast enough to pace the temperatures. Think of Sonora replacing Eastern Colorado, replacing red-dirt Georgia, replacing the Ozarks, replacing Michigan. And if the temperatures and rainfall don't stabilize, the round of replacement cycles through again.

Whether the wildflowers and turtles, the mushrooms and frogs could keep up was a crap-shoot. I assume the squirrels and mice will do okay, the rabbits will march north with the hawks and coyotes following. Some fast and adaptable critters might thrive. If they can beat the humans to each bite. But most critters will get left behind to wither.