I've just heard about Lovelock's latest book: "The Vanishing Face of Gaia". Via the Guardian website, which also has a video of an interview with the man. Interesting enough to buy I thought, so I'm currently waiting on the Amazon delivery.
I thought I'd post some thoughts on Gaia before I read the book, then see what I learn and whether it changes my mind...
Current thoughts? I'm pretty convinced by the Gaia hypothesis - there's tons of evidence that the planet acts much like a single living organism, It tends to homeostasis and has many mechanisms for self-regulation. Which break down - or rather flip into another mode - for a while when pushed too far by some perturbation, but then more or less settle back. We take it for granted a bit that Homo sapiens happened to evolve during a relatively stable spell for example, although there have been some major perturbations during the last million years which we evidently survived. Just.
I'm also pretty convinced by the current climate change. Since I first saw the atmospheric CO2 data from Hawaii in the 70s I've personally believed that it's man-induced, but in a way it's a moot point - climate change IS happening, for whatever reason, and we'd better deal with it!
I don't think it'll wipe out Man. But I DO occasionally wish it would! In my bleaker moments I feel we are a cancer on this beautiful and precious planet, so Man's extinction would be the best thing! In evolutionary terms we're a failed experiment, just like most species that have ever lived - so let's wipe the slate clean and let something better than us evolve.
Another idea I have though is that Man is just doing a job for Gaia. Look at Earth's history and for most of it, CO2 levels were much higher. But via chalk/limestone and particularly via formation of coal/oil/gas, life has steadily been locking carbon away for billions of years. We were slowly heading for a 'not enough CO2' and global cooling crisis! What Gaia needed to come up with to get back to normal was a species to evolve with just enough intelligence to be able to find this coal/oil/gas, and to discover the secret of fire, yet stupid enough to then burn the stuff freely and at an ever-increasing rate, turning it all back into CO2, with no thought to it's own future...
I think we'll survive, but we're in for a terrible time, for hundreds or possibly thousands of years, and only the clever or strong will survive.
I also agree with Lovelock that this is now inevitable. We're NOT going to be saved by Kyoto, or by carbon capture technology or anything else - it's too late. In the 70s we speculated on whether it might be our children or our grandchildren who might detect the first faint signs of the climate change we felt would come - early predictions were ultra-conservative, to please the politicians I think, and also as a genuine reflection of the uncertainty scientists felt back then. But in reality it's already kicking-in, right now, in our lifetime. That's shockingly quick!
That doesn't mean we should give up on CCS, which at least offers a chance to mitigate climate change to some degree. Nor should we give up campaingning to slow down fossil fuel use, for the same reason. But given that we've known about the threat for at least 30 years and still haven't even started to brake or swerve, this crash is inevitable!
What we should be doing, urgently, is planning and preparing for life in a hothouse world. In the 'do the best for the most' model billions of people will need to move nearer the poles. Industry and agriculture will have to totally change. Unprecedented levels of cooperation will be required between countries - indeed many 'countries' will become unrecognisable, and will effectively disappear. It's difficult to see how mass bloodshed can be avoided, as we scrabble for the habitable areas left.
The other model is the 'exclusive few' strategy of course. Set up cities, or perhaps 'fortified citadels' is a better description , in places which look like they'll still be habitable. Only let in the 'best' of mankind. Leave the rest to die. Not very palatable, but more achievable, so maybe more realistic!
Either way, it'll be the biggest challenge we've ever faced. The world economy and society as we know it will be torn apart. Yet I think in the midst of this we must also find the money for an expanded space programme, since if life does become untenable here, life on Mars may be the only possible future Man has left!