When James Lovelock published his famous “Gaia” theory in 1979, I thought he was nuts. He talked about the links between all biological life in the biosphere, and he had a point. But he seemed to be saying not simply that the world behaved like a living organism, or that regarding the world as a living organism could give us some useful metaphorical insights. It seemed to me that he was saying that the earth — “Gaia” in his terms — actually was a single living organism. This was a mystical, numinous, almost religious view of life. But in scientific terms, a nonsense.
Nevertheless the idea was meat and drink to environmentalists who took him to their heart. He was an early Greenpeace activist. They may be having second thoughts after a four-minute interview he recently gave to Channel Four News.
Lovelock remains of the view that the climate is changing and represents a potential threat, but he says “Let’s stop arguing about why it’s changing, and take steps to cope with it”. Perfectly rational, especially as we can’t agree on why it’s changing. In fact Lovelock’s suggestion is exactly in line with Lord Lawson’s 2008 book “An Appeal to Reason”, which argues for adaptation rather than mitigation: in other words that we should spend money on adapting to climate change (sea walls, flood defences, air conditioning, changes in crop patterns) as and when the climate actually does change (and it seems not to have changed for 17 years), rather than spending eye-watering amounts of money up-front in a futile attempt to mitigate a theoretical problem which may never arise.
Lovelock goes further, insisting that a warmer world won’t necessarily be a worse world, and he has a point. The doom-sayers always point to the down-sides of global warming, never to the benefits. The Romans grew grapes by Hadrian’s Wall. Maybe we will again.
Lovelock is still interested in reducing man-made CO2 emissions, but he points out that there are better ways of doing it. He may have reservations about nuclear energy, but he thinks it’s the best way to cut emissions. “They stopped building nuclear and started building wind farms. I think they’re mad”. So do I, James, and thank you for not pulling your punches.
He also favours shale gas, saying that “it will help Britain muddle through”, and no doubt bearing in mind that substituting natural gas for coal also cuts emissions, as the Americans have demonstrated.
He has also called for the further development of GMO crops to help to feed a hungry planet, and castigated the green movement that stands in the way.
So here we have a man who continues (apparently) to believe in man-made global warming. But he supports GMOs, shale gas and nuclear power. And he thinks that wind turbines and solar panels are daft. He’s the sort of green activist I can live with. Not so daft after all.