- Thirty years ago, the scientist James Lovelock worked
out that the Earth possessed a planetary-scale control system which kept
the environment fit for life. He called it Gaia, and the theory has become
widely accepted. Now, he believes mankind's abuse of the environment is
making that mechanism work against us. His astonishing conclusion - that
climate change is already insoluble, and life on Earth will never be the
- The world has already passed the point of no return for
climate change, and civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive,
according to James Lovelock, the scientist and green guru who conceived
the idea of Gaia - the Earth which keeps itself fit for life.
- In a profoundly pessimistic new assessment, published
in today's Independent, Professor Lovelock suggests that efforts to counter
global warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late.
- The world and human society face disaster to a worse
extent, and on a faster timescale, than almost anybody realises, he believes.
He writes: " 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."
- In making such a statement, far gloomier than any yet
made by a scientist of comparable international standing, Professor Lovelock
accepts he is going out on a limb. But as the man who conceived the first
wholly new way of looking at life on Earth since Charles Darwin, he feels
his own analysis of what is happening leaves him no choice. He believes
that it is the self-regulating mechanism of Gaia itself - increasingly
accepted by other scientists worldwide, although they prefer to term it
the Earth System - which, perversely, will ensure that the warming cannot
- This is because the system contains myriad feedback mechanisms
which in the past have acted in concert to keep the Earth much cooler than
it otherwise would be. Now, however, they will come together to amplify
the warming being caused by human activities such as transport and industry
through huge emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2
- It means that the harmful consequences of human beings
damaging the living planet's ancient regulatory system will be non-linear
- in other words, likely to accelerate uncontrollably.
- He terms this phenomenon "The Revenge of Gaia"
and examines it in detail in a new book with that title, to be published
- The uniqueness of the Lovelock viewpoint is that it is
holistic, rather than reductionist. Although he is a committed supporter
of current research into climate change, especially at Britain's Hadley
Centre, he is not looking at individual facets of how the climate behaves,
as other scientists inevitably are. Rather, he is looking at how the whole
control system of the Earth behaves when put under stress.
- Professor Lovelock, who conceived the idea of Gaia in
the 1970s while examining the possibility of life on Mars for Nasa in the
US, has been warning of the dangers of climate change since major concerns
about it first began nearly 20 years ago.
- He was one of a select group of scientists who gave an
initial briefing on global warming to Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet at 10
Downing Street in April 1989.
- His concerns have increased steadily since then, as evidence
of a warming climate has mounted. For example, he shared the alarm of many
scientists at the news last September that the ice covering the Arctic
Ocean is now melting so fast that in 2005 it reached a historic low point.
- Two years ago he sparked a major controversy with an
article in The Independent calling on environmentalists to drop their long-standing
opposition to nuclear power, which does not produce the greenhouses gases
of conventional power stations.
- Global warming was proceeding so fast that only a major
expansion of nuclear power could bring it under control, he said. Most
of the Green movement roundly rejected his call, and does so still.
- Now his concerns have reached a peak - and have a new
emphasis. Rather than calling for further ways of countering climate change,
he is calling on governments in Britain and elsewhere to begin large-scale
preparations for surviving what he now sees as inevitable - in his own
phrase today, "a hell of a climate", likely to be in Europe up
to 8C hotter than it is today.
- In his book's concluding chapter, he writes: "What
should a sensible European government be doing now? I think we have little
option but to prepare for the worst, and assume that we have passed the
- And in today's Independent he writes: "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 ..."
- He goes on: "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." He believes that
the world's governments should plan to secure energy and food supplies
in the global hothouse, and defences against the expected rise in sea levels.
The scientist's vision of what human society may ultimately be reduced
to through climate change is " a broken rabble led by brutal warlords."
- Professor Lovelock draws attention to one aspect of the
warming threat in particular, which is that the expected temperature rise
is currently being held back artificially by a global aerosol - a layer
of dust in the atmosphere right around the planet's northern hemisphere
- which is the product of the world's industry.
- This shields us from some of the sun's radiation in a
phenomenon which is known as "global dimming" and is thought
to be holding the global temperature down by several degrees. But with
a severe industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere
in a very short time, and the global temperature could take a sudden enormous
- One of the most striking ideas in his book is that of
"a guidebook for global warming survivors" aimed at the humans
who would still be struggling to exist after a total societal collapse.
- Written, not in electronic form, but "on durable
paper with long-lasting print", it would contain the basic accumulated
scientific knowledge of humanity, much of it utterly taken for granted
by us now, but originally won only after a hard struggle - such as our
place in the solar system, or the fact that bacteria and viruses cause
- ROUGH GUIDE TO A PLANET IN JEOPARDY
- Global warming, caused principally by the large-scale
emissions of industrial gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), is almost certainly
the greatest threat that mankind has ever faced, because it puts a question
mark over the very habitability of the Earth.
- Over the coming decades soaring temperatures will mean
agriculture may become unviable over huge areas of the world where people
are already poor and hungry; water supplies for millions or even billions
may fail. Rising sea levels will destroy substantial coastal areas in low-lying
countries such as Bangladesh, at the very moment when their populations
are mushrooming. Numberless environmental refugees will overwhelm the capacity
of any agency, or indeed any country, to cope, while modern urban infrastructure
will face devastation from powerful extreme weather events, such as Hurricane
Katrina which hit New Orleans last summer.
- The international community accepts the reality of global
warming, supported by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In its last report, in 2001, the IPCC said global average temperatures
were likely to rise by up to 5.8C by 2100. In high latitudes, such as Britain,
the rise is likely to be much higher, perhaps 8C. The warming seems to
be proceeding faster than anticipated and in the IPCC's next report, 2007,
the timescale may be shortened. Yet there still remains an assumption that
climate change is controllable, if CO2 emissions can be curbed. Lovelock
is warning: think again.
- 'The Revenge of Gaia' by James Lovelock is published
by Penguin on 2 February, price £16.99