Tuesday July 10th 2012

James Lovelock Finally Walks Back His Absurd Doomism, But He Still Doesn’t Follow Climate Science

Famed scientist James Lovelock has always been in a category of one when it comes to global warming. See for instance my June 2009 post, “Lovelock still makes me look like Paula Abdul, warns climate war could kill nearly all of us, leaving survivors in the Stone Age.” That’s mostly because he doesn’t follow the scientific literature.

Now that he has dialed back his doomism — alarmism is a wholly inadequate word for Lovelock’s (former) brand of unjustified hopelessness — the media and the deniers are just so excited. That’s especially true since Lovelock has now overshot in the other direction of climate science confusion and just keeps peddling nonsense.

And so we have this MSNBC story:

‘Gaia’ scientist James Lovelock: I was ‘alarmist’ about climate change

James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too….

The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium….”

He was wrong about his doomism before, he is wrong about Gore now, and he is apparently uninformed about basic climate observations (see “Breaking News: The Earth Is Still Warming. A Lot“). Indeed, even MSNBC feels compelled to note:

Asked to give its latest position on climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement that observations collected by satellites, sensors on land, in the air and seas “continue to show that the average global surface temperature is rising.”

The statement said “the impacts of a changing climate” were already being felt around the globe, with “more frequent extreme weather events of certain types (heat waves, heavy rain events); changes in precipitation patterns … longer growing seasons; shifts in the ranges of plant and animal species; sea level rise; and decreases in snow, glacier and Arctic sea ice coverage.”


But Lovelock hasn’t been speaking sensibly on the climate for a long, long time. Back in 2007, he was saying this sort of thing:

By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million.

… To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won’t make much difference at this point….

As I wrote at the time, Lovelock makes “you — or Al Gore or James Hansen or even me — look optimistic by comparison.”

Memo to Lovelock: Gore never asserted billions would die or anything close to what you’ve been saying. And unlike you, he always believed — and still does — that it’s not too late. So if you finally admitted you were wrong, that’s awesome, but don’t try to claim you were just saying what others were. You weren’t. Not even close.

In 2008, Lovelock was inspiring this kind of headline and story:

We’re all doomed! 40 years from global catastrophe – and there’s NOTHING we can do about it, says climate change expert.

… “By 2040, China will be uninhabitable.” Lovelock believes that the Chinese, because of their high levels of industrial activity, will be the first to suffer, with the death of all plant life.

So I think the Chinese will go to Africa. They are already there, preparing a new continent – the Chinese industrialists who claim to be out there mining minerals are just there on a pretext of preparing for the big move.”

If the word ‘crackpot’ comes to mind, it certainly wasn’t because I put it in your head. Yes 1 billion people will go the one continent that can’t feed itself today and which will be Dust-Bowlifying and superhot. Seriously.

Now I know some readers may believe billions will die this century. I don’t.

I do know some climate scientists and others who think that it is certainly possible billions will die if we are so self-destructive as to keep near the worst-case emissions scenario and the carbon cycle feedbacks and soil moisture projections are merely in the middle of their projected range (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).

But it’s not what I think is going to happen. I actually believe that even if we do let the deniers sucker us into another decade of delay, that we are still going to get WWII-scale serious about climate sometime in the 2020s and avert the worst-case scenarios — even if the feedbacks really start to kick in.

I also believe that even if the bad-case scenarios kick in post-2040, the world is going to reorganize much of its activity to prevent billions of people from dying. Oh, yes, billions of people are going to needlessly suffer a great deal if the deniers triumph, but stopping billions from starving to death this century will be well within our capability even if we ruin a livable climate. That doesn’t mean we will definitely do what is needed, of course, but I am an optimist in this regard.

I’m delighted that Lovelock has reversed his doomism. But until he actually reads the scientific literature, his thoughts on climate will continue to have, well, no basis in science.

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress