Friday, January 04, 2008

A Profile of James Lovelock: Climate Change Doomster

Reading this profile of James Lovelock is useful for one reason - it makes economists appear positively cheery on what the future holds.

This description of him by the Rolling Stone reporter might ring a bell for a few economists out there:

In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen -- war, famine, pestilence and death -- seems to perk him up.

His books include:

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back - and How We Can Still Save Humanity

The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth

The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock [Rolling Stone]

James Lovelock has come to an unsettling conclusion: The human race is doomed. "I wish I could be more hopeful," he tells me one sunny morning as we walk through a park in Oslo, where he is giving a talk at a university. Lovelock is a small man, unfailingly polite, with white hair and round, owlish glasses. His step is jaunty, his mind lively, his manner anything but gloomy. In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen -- war, famine, pestilence and death -- seems to perk him up. "It will be a dark time," Lovelock admits. "But for those who survive, I suspect it will be rather exciting."

So far so doom laden but lets get to the figures and really crank up the pain. A population decline to 500 million from 6.6 billion is a good start.

In Lovelock's view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. "The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia," Lovelock says. "How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable." With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth's population will be culled from today's 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes -- Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.

Surely there is some good news. What about solar panels and wind turbines that now litter the skylines of politician's houses?

"I wish I could say that wind turbines and solar panels will save us," Lovelock responds. "But I can't. There isn't any kind of solution possible. There are nearly 7 billion people on the planet now, not to mention livestock and pets. If you just take the CO2 of everything breathing, it's twenty-five percent of the total --four times as much CO2 as all the airlines in the world. So if you want to improve your carbon footprint, just hold your breath. It's terrifying. We have just exceeded all reasonable bounds in numbers. And from a purely biological view, any species that does that has a crash."

Oh well. Are those revisions still worth doing I wonder?


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