Summary: There are two kinds of people. Those willing to admit mistakes, and those who will not. World-renown scientists James Lovelock has passed the test and shown himself a member of the first group. Despite the pressure to profess the anthropogenic climate change dogma, he acknowledged the recent stabilization of temperature. Considering his past alarmism, that took greatness of character.
“When the facts change, I change my mind.”
— attributed to Lord Keynes, the great economist
“I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.”
— President Lincoln, in a letter to Major General Grant, 13 July 1863
- Admitting error (a rare thing these days)
- Warning #1: “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”
- Warning #2: “Enjoy life while you can”
- Warning #3: “James Lovelock interview: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change”
- About James Lovelock
- For more information
(1) Admitting error (a rare thing these days)
The evidence slowly accumulates about the Good news – Global temperatures have stabilized, at least for now (3 February 2012). Although what this means for future remains uncertain, this has disproved the more extreme predictions of catastrophe. While most climate scientists acknowledge the pause, few of those forecasting disaster have changed their tune. One of those few is James Lovelock: “I was ‘alarmist’ about climate change“, interview with MSNBC, 23 April 2012 — Excerpt:
The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened. … The climate is doing its usual tricks.
There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now. … The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that.
… We will have global warming, but it’s been deferred a bit.
It’s not easy (for examples see the FM Reference Page Smackdowns – corrections & rebuttals to FM posts). Locklock’s admission is impressive considering his past warnings about the approaching climate catastrophe.
(2) “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years“, James Lovelock, op-ed in The Independent, 16 January 2006 — Excerpt:
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 civilisation are in grave danger.
(3) “‘Enjoy life while you can’“, The Guardian, 29 February 2008 — “Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam.” Excerpt:
Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain’s most respected – if maverick – independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.
… His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report deploys less dramatic language – but its calculations aren’t a million miles away from his.
… Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won’t make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable. “It’s just too late for it,” he says. “Perhaps if we’d gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don’t have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can’t say that, because it gives us nothing to do. … He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. “Carbon offsetting? I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you’re offsetting the carbon? You’re probably making matters worse.
… Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive.
(4) “James Lovelock interview: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change“, The Guardian, 29 March 2010 — “In his first in-depth interview since the theft of UEA emails, the scientist blames inertia and democracy for lack of action” Excerpt:
We need a more authoritative world. We’ve become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It’s all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can’t do that. You’ve got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course.
But it can’t happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What’s the alternative to democracy? There isn’t one. But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.
… I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change. We’re very active animals. We like to think: “Ah yes, this will be a good policy,” but it’s almost never that simple.
Perhaps Lovelock will take the next step and apologize to those he lead into fear, even hysteria. I’ve done it, and it doesn’t get easier with practice. But it’s the right thing to do, however rare.
(5) About James Lovelock
Even in the illustrious history of the Society’s senior medal, first awarded to William Smith in 1831, it is rare to be able to say that the recipient has opened up a whole new field of Earth science study. But that is the case with this year’s winner, James Lovelock.
Lovelock does not lack for honours after his long and distinguished career in science. As well as more lately being created Companion of Honour and Commander of the Order of the British Empire, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, and garnered many awards for his pioneering work in chromatography. Lovelock invented the electron capture detector for gas chromatography – an instrument whose exquisite sensitivity has subsequently been central to several important environmental breakthroughs. For example, during the 1960s it enabled the documentation of widespread dissemination of harmful and persistent pesticides like DDT, and later on the technique was extended to the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Lovelock himself famously used the technique to chart the ubiquitous presence of chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – in the atmosphere, triggering the discoveries (by Rowland and Molina) of the harmful influence of CFCs on atmospheric ozone – work for which they received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1997. He has also developed instruments for exploring other planets than our own, including those aboard the two Viking craft that went to Mars in 1975, about which I know he will tell us in a moment.
But Lovelock really came to high public prominence for the scientific concept that has captured the imaginations of Earth scientists, biologists and public alike – the concept for which we as geologists chiefly honour him today – the Gaia Hypothesis and Theory. This view of the planet and the life that lives on it as single complex system, in some ways analogous to a homesostatically self-regulating organism, is what has given rise to the field we now know as ‘Earth System Science’, also the most recently formed of this Society’s Specialist Groups..
It is hard to over emphasize the unifying nature of this holistic world view, which has broken down artificial disciplinary barriers that have existed since the late 18th and early 19th Century when Societies such as this were first formed, and the wonderful richness of insight that has flowed from the multidisciplinarity that has followed. This is especially so in the understanding of feedback loops between life and the environment, especially the dimethyl sulphide-cloud albedo-surface temperature (CLAW) hypothesis, and the whole idea that life coupled with its material environment regulates planetary temperature and chemical composition over long timescales by influencing rates of silicate weathering.
- His degrees, awards and prizes.
- Hia papers.
- His significant scientific contributions
- His Curriculum Vitae, correct as of October 2006
- His website, with links to some of his work
(6) For more information
Other posts in this series:
- What we know about our past climate, and its causes
- Good news! Global temperatures have stabilized, at least for now.
- Is it possible to debate climate change with true believers? See the replies to Thursday’s post. Comments welcomed!
- What can climate scientists tell about the drivers of future warming?
- What can climate scientists tell us about the drivers of future warming? – part two of two
- The slow solar cycle is getting a lot of attention. What are its effect on us?