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Interview: Jasper Gerard meets James Lovelock

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    Fw: [fuelcell-energy] ... The Sunday Times February 05, 2006 Interview: Jasper Gerard meets James Lovelock We re all doomed, so to hell with wind farms Off to
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2006
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      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      The Sunday Times February 05, 2006

      Interview: Jasper Gerard meets James Lovelock
      We're all doomed, so to hell with wind farms

      Off to a Greenpeace rally via the bottle bank in your eco-car,
      converted to run on organic carrot juice? Don't bother. Instead, go
      for a burn-up in a Ferrari, crank up the heating and wait for the end
      of the world.

      This seems to be the message of James Lovelock, celebrated scientist
      and creator of the Gaia theory that taught us to think of the planet
      as a living organism. He declares it is too late to save civilisation
      as we know it, so save yourself. Find a mountain, perhaps on the
      island of Cornwall, before the floods arrive � London, he tells me,
      could be under the North Sea within 50 years.

      Gulp. Is this some swivel-eyed old boy with a sandwich board assuring
      us the end of the world is nigh? Nope. Lovelock is one of Britain's
      most revered thinkers. Sure, his Gaia theory � named during a
      Wiltshire walk by Lovelock's friend William Golding after the Greek
      goddess of the earth � was considered cranky back in 1979. But it is
      now the paradigm in which science is done.

      It holds that the planet, far from being just a ball of lumpen matter
      like Mars, is living and self-regulating: a series of connected
      systems control conditions; crucially including climate. But so badly
      has man treated his mistress, Gaia, that she can no longer heal

      Lovelock says global warming is caused by industry belching out too
      much carbon dioxide, farming that eats away at forests, and too many
      damn people who, because of increased wealth, are pumping out more
      emissions through everything from their cars to their fridges. The
      great thaw is now so advanced that the sun's rays are no longer being
      cooled by the whiteness of the icecaps, as they are melting away.

      Lovelock is no eco-nut with personal hygiene issues: he supports
      nuclear power and once worked for MI5 as "Q" � inventing whizzo
      gadgets to spy on Ruskies.

      So his warning about rising sea levels caused by global warming puts
      into alarming relief sedate conferences on climate change and George
      Bush's aspiration to cut back a teensy-weensy bit on Middle East oil.
      Lovelock's intervention has been described as a "wake-up call", but
      could be termed a "thank you and good-night call".

      "It is much too late for insulating your house and all that," says
      Lovelock. "Fifty years ago it would have helped. What we need now is
      sustainable retreat." As he concedes, it is a "gloomy" prognosis from
      an otherwise cheery man, born working-class in Brixton but now
      pottering about a converted Devon mill.

      Yet in 20 years he predicts fuel will grow so short it will be
      rationed. "It will be like world war two," he says, eyes twinkling.
      He remembers. He looks puckishly in the pink, chomping on fruit cake
      baked by his much younger American wife Sandy, but Lovelock knows he
      is also running out of time: he is 86.

      As for London: "There was a three-year period the Thames barrier
      wasn't used at all, but in a recent year it went up 24 times. Why
      isn't government planning to rehouse people? London is sinking
      anyway, so global warming is lethal."

      Flooding, caused by the melting of the ice caps, will wipe out entire
      countries, he contends. Only the more northerly countries will
      survive. Luckily, this includes chunks of Britain. Then, he suggests,
      we will have to form nothing less than a new civilisation based not
      on the creation of wealth but the preservation of the earth. He ends
      his latest book, The Revenge of Gaia (published by Allen Lane),
      proposing a manual for human survivors of the coming apocalypse,
      telling them how to start again, with fewer people leading simpler
      lives. Meanwhile, as it would be "hubris" to imagine we can save the
      planet, he reckons it is "natural to think `let's make hay while it

      Unlike science-bores, Lovelock talks in the vivid lingo of the
      science fictionalist: "The Arctic basin," he declares, "will be home
      to the desirable real estate." You suspect he enjoys these little
      bons mots. By then the Arctic will not quite be St Lucia, but it will
      be pleasant in an austere sort of way; much of the Third World, by
      contrast, will be too hot to support human life. So grave is the
      crisis that he seeks radical solutions.

      But his former friends, the greens, are horrified by his call to
      renew our ageing nuclear reactors � although he insists a few big
      turnips in the green lobby "privately agree but have told me they
      couldn't possibly say it publicly". His reasoning? There is simply no
      time to mess around developing alternative energy.

      Nuclear opponents, he believes, deliberately confuse civil and
      military nuclear programmes. "I know how scary it was. I was working
      in Houston (for Nasa) during the Cuban missile crisis and we were a
      prime target."

      As a socialist who grew to admire Margaret Thatcher, he is
      exasperated by David Cameron's flirtation with Zac Goldsmith and his
      trendy turquoise tendency. "What is happening to the Conservative
      party?" he smiles. "I hope Zac Goldsmith looks at things a little
      more open-mindedly." Pointedly he adds: "I will remain independent.
      Once you become an adviser, I don't say you are corrupt, but you have
      loyalties not just to your beliefs but to the group."

      But Lovelock's own thesis is not without difficulties. He chirpily
      predicts the earth is on a road to "hell", but still grumbles about
      plans for a wind farm that might tarnish his view. "Why wreck the
      countryside with wind turbines when they are not going to do any
      good?" he argues. If we will be drowned in rising waters, does the
      desecration of his view really matter? But his argument about the
      uselessness of wind turbines is compelling: they only work 25% of the
      time � when it is blowy � and cannot store energy.

      He also has a good dig at bio-fuel � popular with Goldsmith and co �
      arguing farmland, as much as emissions, causes global warming. Still,
      there are graver apparent contradictions in Lovelock's Gaia theory.
      Twenty-five years ago he warned that the world could be on the brink
      of a new ice age, now he tells us it is burning up. Might he change
      his mind again in another 25 years? "I won't be around in 25 years."

      He justifies his U-turn on the ice age front by saying the world is
      in an "unstable state" as Gaia's thermostat can't cope. "It is like
      when one has a fever. It can cool off, or it can flip upwards so high
      you die." The world has been pretty toasty before and supported life;
      need heat be disastrous? "In Gaian terms, no, it is part of the
      game." But a game in which the players � us � will be toast. "If you
      look at it more deeply, it is terrible for the earth, too: if it
      loses us, its first organised intelligence, well . . . It was through
      our eyes that she was, for the first time, able to see her beauty."

      This is the language that has scientists spluttering into their test
      tubes � and has Lovelock's new age fans puffing on their joints. "All
      scientists haven't accepted is the name. William Golding offers them
      a beautiful word and they call it `earth system science'."

      But Gaia, it transpires, should only be seen as a "metaphor". "The
      world is not sentient except through us," Lovelock clarifies. If he
      had made that clear, perhaps scientists would not have been so
      outraged, though as he says: "Science always uses metaphor:
      the `selfish gene' was a lovely metaphor." So does he feel
      vindicated? "You can't help feeling that. Though I would have liked
      it 20 years ago when I was in the centre of the battle."

      Not that the battle to prove carbon dioxide emissions cause global
      warming is won entirely. President Bush is equivocal on the causes of
      global warming � he has not pledged to use less oil, just less Arab

      "You never know with politicians what they are really saying. And I
      don't say that in a negative way � they have an appalling job,"
      Lovelock says of Bush's comments last week. Rather than blame the
      president he puts it down to the culture of American science and
      its "stifling cronyism" that holds back young scientists. "It takes
      an awful lot to shift a paradigm there, whereas we," he laughs, "are
      an argumentative lot."

      As someone who has worked in America, he says the problem is their
      sense of splendid isolation, but Hurricane Katrina could shake them
      out of that. Lovelock says he is just waiting for President Bush or
      his successor to say "We can get the technology, we can fix the

      But by then it won't work. "Or if it does work, it will create even
      more problems." He gives the example of the European Union's aerosol
      ban which, he contends, actually increases global warming because
      some aerosol particles provide protection from the sun. "Europe
      criticises America, but its policy on sustainable development is lots
      of greedy snouts in the subsidy trough. It's a scam." As for Tony
      Blair: "He hints he wants to go nuclear but is he just making noises?
      I fear he will decide opposition within his cabinet is too strong.
      It's full of old CND marchers like Margaret Beckett."

      If we must forget sustainable development and think sustainable
      retreat, how can we tell that to the Third World, where people, far
      from enjoying the last post- industrial fag, are still starving?
      Lovelock concedes all governments are in a bind: "China will soon
      emit more greenhouse gases than America, but its regime knows if it
      caps aspirations there will be a revolution."

      Lovelock seems blown in different directions: part extreme end-is-
      nigh ecologist, part capitalist economist. He says he is a scientist
      before he is a green, which makes his theology technology: mobiles
      and computers, for instance, have been a green boon as they cut

      Small and sprightly, he leaps from his chair, smile beaming, to show
      me his gadgets. "This kicked off the environmental revolution," he
      says, pointing to a small black box. "It found the first CFC
      (chlorofluorocarbon) emission." He went freelance 40 years ago,
      inventing whizzo kit for a living. "I knew if I worked for a
      university they would have said, `Look here, Lovelock, you have to
      drop this research. It is giving us a bad name '."

      Gadgetry led him, via his friend Lord Rothschild, to design spy
      gizmos for MI5. One of his inventions worked like a sniffer dog "only
      better". He is distraught MI5 is, apparently, closing the lab. "Civil
      servants just don't see the value." Sad, really, when MI6 seems to
      have had such fun with that clever rock in Moscow.

      "As you can see," he says, leaning back in his chair. "I have had a
      wonderful life." The question that has me scratching my head all the
      way back from Devon is: will we? Not if Lovelock's global prophecies
      come to pass.




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