Lovelock to planet: Enjoy it, suckers!
March 3, 2008 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Enjoy life while you can. Because we're doomed. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable. James Lovelock is still at it. (Previously.)
posted by monospace (101 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don’t think we can just ... ask billions of people not to have been born
I will ask several today. I'm sure you can all think of a few, too. We could make a real start.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


internets, u r depressing me today
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


You know what? This feels like wonderful news to me today, which I have spent powerfully wishing for death. Most of the time all my left-wing education/brainwashing/whatever would kick in here, but after seing the video of some US soldiers throwing a puppy off a cliff and having some clients want a complete re-design, this news really lifts my heart.

Don't worry I'll be back pushing the fucking rock tomorrow.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


...US soldiers throwing a puppy off a cliff...

....on second thought, don't even tell me.
posted by DU at 10:52 AM on March 3, 2008


internets, u r depressing me today

No shit. I wish I could embrace the casual ignorance of most of my fellow citizens.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:55 AM on March 3, 2008


Every time I read anything about this, I start wondering...should I be planning to build a bunker in the woods to live in as well as my retirement?
posted by agregoli at 10:55 AM on March 3, 2008


I would like to take a moment here to add to the bad news: In 5 - 6 billion years, the sun is going to enter a red giant phase in which it will swell to the point where the orbit of the Earth is within it's surface. This will completely destroy the planet.

Before then, we will most likely be struck repeatedly (about once every 26 million years or so, if the historical record is any indication) by massive asteroids which will destroy most of the higher life forms on the planet.

In between those Extinction Level Events, we will have to contend with massive earth quakes, volcanoes, forest fires, mud slides, and all manner of epic storm conditions from tornadoes to giant hurricanes.

Our lives and the existence of our species are but a blink in the eternalness that is global time. The world will end, and we will most likely be long gone before that ever happens, but does that mean we shouldn't make any efforts to sustain ourselves as long as possible?

Hell no. Pessimism gets us little other than apathy at the inevitable. You know that eventually, you are going to die. Does that mean that you don't fight to stay alive as long as possible? Of course not.
posted by quin at 11:02 AM on March 3, 2008 [17 favorites]


I maintain friendships with the peasants living by mere subsistence farming I met as a development worker, in a place far from the global market on marginal mountain land. They are the people who still have the skills and values to survive this. I sincerely hope they will pity me and exchange potatoes for manual labour and a spot in the corner when the time comes. Let's just hope the water sources don't get too badly polluted.
posted by Abiezer at 11:08 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Recent discussions of this ilk remind me of something my (many years formerly) boss at the non-profit think tank said about global warming - this was about 7 years ago. He said something to the effect that "oh, I think that people will continue to push the idea that the science isn't clear on global warming for as long as they possibly can, and then very quickly switch to the idea that it's become too late, that there's really nothing to be done about it. Anything to keep things business as usual." I'm not claiming these people are closet agents for the oil industry, (I'm certain they're not), but I can't help but notice how prescient his opinion is turning out to be.
posted by nanojath at 11:09 AM on March 3, 2008 [13 favorites]


I can't go back and not be born, but I can decide to not have children. Which doesn't make me any better than anyone who has decided to have kids (I like my first-world lifestyle as much as the next person, and I'm just as reluctant to give it up), but it might make me a hell of a lot wiser.
posted by you just lost the game at 11:09 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hurf durf the-end-is-nigher.
posted by 517 at 11:10 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I maintain friendships with the peasants living by mere subsistence farming I met as a development worker, in a place far from the global market on marginal mountain land.

Having worked in development myself, I am keenly interested in finding out what possible place this could be.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2008


nanojath writes "Recent discussions of this ilk remind me of something my (many years formerly) boss at the non-profit think tank said about global warming - this was about 7 years ago. He said something to the effect that 'oh, I think that people will continue to push the idea that the science isn't clear on global warming for as long as they possibly can, and then very quickly switch to the idea that it's become too late, that there's really nothing to be done about it. Anything to keep things business as usual.'"

Except that this is James Lovelock who is saying this, not some politician.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."
posted by krinklyfig at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


On the plus side, this may be what gets my mom off my back for not going to college.

Related, catchy.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2008


Slightly tongue in cheek, B_B, as I realise the market in fact penetrates lives even apparently a long way off the grid, but for the record it was an ethnic Yi township in the foothills of the Great Liangshan mountains in Sichuan I had in mind.
posted by Abiezer at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2008


seriously, can I just die? I'd like to fill out some forms with lawyers etc, saying I am compos mentis, am giving my space and consumption quota to 10 chinese.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


DOOOOOOOOOOOM!
posted by MythMaker at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Working alone since the age of 40, he...introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science."

Okay, so what you're telling me is I need to dismiss the rest of the article.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:22 AM on March 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh, oh, oh! Six o'clock and the master not home yet. Pray God nothing serious has happened to him crossing the Hudson River. If anything happened to him, we would certainly be inconsolable and have to move into a less desirable residence district.

The fact is I don't know what'll become of us.

Here it is the middle of August and the coldest day of the year. It's simply freezing; the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks; can anybody explain that? No.

But I'm not surprised. The whole world's at sixes and sevens, and why the house hasn't fallen down about our ears long ago is a miracle to me.
posted by MotherTucker at 11:26 AM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Bingo, Pastabagel. James Lovelock's opinion on where we're at with climate change is about as meaningful as Linus Pauling's on the benefits of Vitamin C. You can be brilliant and still not know what the fuck you're talking about.

And say, you just lost the game, since you keep bringing this up, tell me something: do you really want to have kids? Do you like kids? Are you terribly sad about your decision to not have kids for "the planet," the way people who want kids and find out they are biologically incapable are? Have you adopted kids, or are you fostering kids, to fill that kid-sized hole in your heart?
posted by nanojath at 11:30 AM on March 3, 2008


What kid-sized hole in the heart?
posted by agregoli at 11:34 AM on March 3, 2008


Better than a heart-sized hole in a kid, if you ask me.
Which you didn't.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:38 AM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Pessimism gets us little other than apathy at the inevitable.

I'm a persistent optimist, and even I know that often pessimism and/or cynicism can lead to more realistic assessments of a given problem. Chronic pessimism might lead to apathy, but pollyannas rarely solve intractable problems.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, for personal reasons my wife and I don't want to have kids, anyway, so the abstract idea of our decision being "good for the evironment" is just positive reinforcement. I don't want to cast doubt upon anyone's decision to have children, because everyone should have that right, and, of course, if no-one had kids we'd be extinct in about a century. But the fact remains: there are too many of us, and we're fucking the place up.
posted by you just lost the game at 11:40 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


you just lost the game writes " I can't go back and not be born, but I can decide to not have children. Which doesn't make me any better than anyone who has decided to have kids (I like my first-world lifestyle as much as the next person, and I'm just as reluctant to give it up), but it might make me a hell of a lot wiser."

I'm with Lovelock. I don't think it's going to matter, these little things - it won't add up to enough to offset our oil dependence, and the way we produce food. We're going to be forced into a big change sometime in the next 50 years. That will matter, but we don't really have a choice, either. I'll continue to recycle, however, because reusing our resources is better than wasting them.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:42 AM on March 3, 2008


Ah, Suicide, is there anything you can't fix?
posted by aramaic at 11:42 AM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's the biggest Catch-21 nature ever invented: the absolute shitheads that still feel they need to produce eight or - why not? - twelve little shitheaded copies of themselves are exactly the shitheads we end up with the most of.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:46 AM on March 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


I'm at the age right now where all my friends are getting married and either having kids or talking about having kids. I can now happily say that they are suckers.
posted by shmegegge at 11:47 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


21, 22 whatever it takes.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:49 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can now happily say that they are suckers.

I'm not sure I see the silver lining...
posted by danb at 11:51 AM on March 3, 2008


In the Biblical story of Joseph, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream and recognizes that seven years of good crops are going to be followed by seven years of bad crops. On this scant evidence, Pharaoh decided it was a better idea to store up as much food as he could to mitigate the potential disaster just in case it did happen.

I suspect that God could appear in front of every citizen in the world and do a little song and dance routine titled "the world is going to end if you folks don't change the way you do things" and most of humanity would still keep the proverbial car pointed at the proverbial cliff.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:53 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Lovelock has been on the way pessimistic side on this for some time now. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change start putting out reports saying 'fuck it, we're doomed, I'm moving to Maui', I'll take notice.
posted by athenian at 11:56 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how often end-of-the-world threads inevitably include comments about children (and about not having them). It's a dilemma that is impossible to resolve, I think.

Half of the kids in the West are more or less accidents, I recall hearing. So the argument is moot for a lot of us.

I do remember, after ten years of sheltering my child from my pessimistic view on our species' future, in an unguarded moment, sharing with her a bit of this sense of doom many of us carry around with us (perhaps from reading books like these).

She said, "Daddy, why are you telling me this?"
posted by kozad at 11:58 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lovelock is, of course, completely correct. But the alternative suggested in the second link--become "willing to learn," listen to the women, all that hippie nonsense--is just as unrealizable as "saving the planet."

The future is not in grand, pan-societal projects for spiritual or economic renewal. The future is forging personal, meatspace connections with people. Not people who all look like you and work as web developers. People who will help you and each other stay alive for the next few decades, and afterwards, maybe, start something new on the ruins of the old.
posted by nasreddin at 12:00 PM on March 3, 2008



Lovelock has been on the way pessimistic side on this for some time now. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change start putting out reports saying 'fuck it, we're doomed, I'm moving to Maui', I'll take notice.


Too bad the IPCC is dependent on government funding to exist, funding which will quickly dry up if it stops pretending that there are realistic policy proposals out there.


It's the biggest Catch-21 nature ever invented: the absolute shitheads that still feel they need to produce eight or - why not? - twelve little shitheaded copies of themselves are exactly the shitheads we end up with the most of.


And you, my friend, are an entitled first-world twerp who will be first against the wall when the apocalypse comes.
posted by nasreddin at 12:04 PM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


So there I was, reading along, ('doom... more doom... wittily phrased doom... resignedly certain doom...') and then Lovelock mentions Quorn. Quorn? What the hey?

So I looked it up.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quorn
http://www.quorn.com/

Fungus-based nutritionally optimized foodstuffs. Grown in huge vats of oxygenated water.

Finally, I live in the future I dreamed about when I was a kid.

posted by MrVisible at 12:11 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Good news. I was hoping we would hit the tipping point and global warming would amp up. It's as cold as a witch's titty here today.
posted by dios at 12:17 PM on March 3, 2008


This is a textbook case of why talking to scientists (independent or otherwise) is a dangerous thing for a journalist to do, especially if that journalist is unfamiliar with the way that certain kinds of scientist (particularly the ones who really like to talk to journalists) will mix lofty scientific fact with ill-informed opinion and baseless supposition all in the same tone of scientific omniscience. (FWIW, I'm a journalist who has spent a lot of time talking to scientists - especially climate scientists - so I kind of know this turf.)

Anyway, I've got some of those utterly useless renewable-energy entrepreneurs to talk to this afternoon, so I can't manage a full accounting of all that's wrong (or at best half-right) with that first Guardian story. Here's just the most obvious stuff (all italics are direct Lovelock quotes):

Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon?

This is a gross misrepresentation of the overwhelming majority of the work commissioned or otherwise invested in by carbon offset firms, and a total misapprehension of the general thrust of the real growth in the industry.

All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing.

Baseless supposition. I think Lovelock means "crazy old coot who had some compelling big ideas 40 years ago" in Swahili. I have an air of authority when I think that. Where's my Guardian feature?

What I know is that James Lovelock's never met, say, Phil LaRocco of E+Co., who could provide him with plenty of deep meaning to the phrase "sustainable development."

You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time.

So either every single person even remotely connected to the energy industry and energy policy in all of Northern Europe is stone dumb, or James Lovelock doesn't really know what he's talking about. On one hand, you've got Siemens, the entirety of the German energy bureaucracy, essentially the entirety of the political and business establishment in Scandinavia. Several of Silicon Valley's shrewdest venture capitalists. The state of California nearly in toto. Members of the board of directors of Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips (to name just the ones I've encountered personally). On the other, an autodidact in the English woods.

No offence, Mr. Lovelock, because the Gaia hypothesis is a fascinating thing and your work on the ozone layer was indeed pathbreaking, but I don't think your extrapolations are any more guaranteed than any others, and I'll continue in the meantime to side with sustainability's pioneers, who still believe in humanity's limitless capacity for adaptation. If you find my corpse next to a cactus in the middle of the Canadian desert in 2041, draped over a solar-thermal panel, you may feel free to have your last laugh then.
posted by gompa at 12:18 PM on March 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Maybe the aliens will bail us out.
posted by sour cream at 12:21 PM on March 3, 2008


Don't worry guys! Only the poor are going to get fucked. We'll be fine!
posted by greytape at 12:30 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


There will be a future. It might look like Doris Lessing's Shikasta, or like the Children of Men, but there will be one. It might be a civilization that looks much like the slums of Rio, but it will exist.

Personally I think that the West should throw open its doors to the masses in advance of the desperate refugee migrations that will no doubt be gathering force in a few decades. But that's just me.
posted by jokeefe at 12:31 PM on March 3, 2008


This is a textbook case of why talking to scientists (independent or otherwise) is a dangerous thing....

Nice comment, gompa. It's interesting to see the level of credulity Lovelock's comments inspire here, especially considering that said credulity amounts to the most stringent level of skepticism towards hundreds or thousands of other scientists working on climate issues.

Too bad the IPCC is dependent on government funding to exist, funding which will quickly dry up if it stops pretending that there are realistic policy proposals out there.

Oh. I see.

Jesus Christ.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:31 PM on March 3, 2008


Personally I think that the West should throw open its doors

You cannot have freedom until human beings are accorded the same level of mobility given to capital.
posted by aramaic at 12:42 PM on March 3, 2008 [11 favorites]


Anyone know who refutes Lovelock on this? Is there a good rebuttal to his claims out there?
posted by agregoli at 12:42 PM on March 3, 2008


Oh. I see.

Jesus Christ.


Good point, I didn't consider that.


Nice comment, gompa. It's interesting to see the level of credulity Lovelock's comments inspire here, especially considering that said credulity amounts to the most stringent level of skepticism towards hundreds or thousands of other scientists working on climate issues.


I wasn't converted to anything by these comments, it's what I've thought for a long time. And appealing to some anonymous throng of environmentalists and scientists--the substance of gompa's reply--doesn't answer squat, I'm sorry. (Maybe they didn't teach dialectic in your PhD program). I'm not doubting that they're all fine scientists and businessmen, but it's beside the point: the only possible substantive reply is a detailed explanation of how, exactly, given realistic growth rates, rising middle classes in India and China, and deep political inflexibility outside of the first world, we can possibly save our own skins anymore.

Really, your eyerolls and your huffing and puffing show nothing more than the depth of your denial.
posted by nasreddin at 12:43 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The outlook isn't nearly as gloomy as Lovelock makes it out to be, and I'm an environmental science graduate student who's depressed on a daily basis over all of these issues. Just let gas get to $5/gallon - then we will see some really huge shifts in thinking and policy.

Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon?

Carbon offsets are still very problematic, mostly because you have no idea what/how/where you are offsetting. A cap and trade program is still a better strategy at reducing CO2 emissions at this point.

You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time.

Like gompa, I believe wind is a feasible source of alternative energy as it doesn't come with some of the disadvantages of other alternative sources - the serious land issues and emissions of biofuels, the waste issue with nuclear, the energy-intensive process of solar, the ecological consequences of hydroelectric - but the efficiency is just not there yet to fuel us all. The energy of the future will not come from one source but from many different types.

"Sustainability" is a worthy goal, but the beauty of it (and why no one is against it) is that it's meaningless. Does it mean reducing energy demands, emissions, water use? What if you have to expend more energy to reduce GHG? Environmentalism is all about tradeoffs, and you have to be specific and take a systems-oriented approach.
posted by kookaburra at 12:43 PM on March 3, 2008


When I was a kid it was nuclear holocaust that was going to do for us all (guess I never should have watched Theads) but now it seems to be climate change that's the new Bogeyman and we are all going to freeze / burn / drown / starve to death (even though we are probably now at greater risk of a nuclear "incident" than for many years).

The danger here seems to be that it just becomes a get out clause "What I can I do about it - I'll just burn all these tyres 'cos China builds 13 new coal power stations every 27 minutes" and articles like Lovelock's really don't help, almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.
posted by badrolemodel at 12:54 PM on March 3, 2008


QUORN!
posted by Kloryne at 12:55 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm not doubting that they're all fine scientists and businessmen, but it's beside the point: the only possible substantive reply is a detailed explanation of how, exactly, given realistic growth rates, rising middle classes in India and China, and deep political inflexibility outside of the first world, we can possibly save our own skins anymore.

Well, the current best thinking is probably summed up in Pacala and Socolow's stabilization wedge paper, right? Is there anything particular in there you object to?

dialectic

I'm sorry, but you were the one who started out with a facile (and immaterial) dismissal of the work of the IPCC (who weren't so "anonymous" when you made your first comment). My response was at the level of your argument.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:59 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the next 10K years the odds are high of some global cataclysm radically altering or destroying our human existence. After all we live on a thin crust of hard rock, most of which is submerged underwater, and much of that with is not submerged is actually quite uninhabitable. This crust is constantly shaking, sometimes with catastrophic results like the Christmas tsunami. The crust shakes because it actually floats on melted rock; the very same stuff that comes exploding out whenever there is a slight weak point. Sometimes, these blowouts are so massive, such as at Yelowstone 640K years ago, that the world becomes quite a hard place to live for a few thousand years. Don't even get me started on the sure insanity of the fact that most of the food is grown by a barely understood process where eneregy is converted by chlorofil from an out of control fusion reaction which we call the sun. This of course brings me to space, and death by meteor, supernova, or some other event. I take some comfort in the fact that most of us will all be killed by a problem of our own making. At least we will have died as the result of something we did, rather than some bullshit, random, the system crashed, sucks to be you situation. It would be cool if we had the killer robots scenario first though. Death by killer robots is way cooler than climate change. Also some of them might be hot.
posted by humanfont at 12:59 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's the biggest Catch-21 nature ever invented: the absolute shitheads that still feel they need to produce eight or - why not? - twelve little shitheaded copies of themselves are exactly the shitheads we end up with the most of.

I stopped stressing when I looked around current British society, and realised "Idiocracy" was a pretty accurate prediction of our future. My cunning plan is to die before it gets that bad, and leave the poor future chav desecendants of humanity to live in ignorant happiness. Until the power stops working and the soothing 'reality' TV ceases to function and the benefit payments stop. Still, they should provide a nice compliant workforce when the chinese invasion comes, as long as its not anything too complicated.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2008



The outlook isn't nearly as gloomy as Lovelock makes it out to be, and I'm an environmental science graduate student who's depressed on a daily basis over all of these issues. Just let gas get to $5/gallon - then we will see some really huge shifts in thinking and policy.


I don't see how this isn't just the liberal version of the tired "market forces" argument. The government isn't going to magically become more efficient once things come down to the wire (see, for example, Katrina). Around the time gas hits $5, we'll be seeing environmental crises unprecedented in our history. Let's say you have an average state with some polluting industry left, and which is suddenly struck by a Katrina-scale disaster. Is this really the time when you imagine dramatic policy shifts toward cap-and-trade, for instance? These things do have opportunity costs, and in this case they will result in (at least some) lost jobs. Under these circumstances, do you imagine a politician who supports cap-and-trade being re-elected, especially if gas doesn't immediately start getting appreciably cheaper, which it probably won't for some time? It would be political suicide.
posted by nasreddin at 1:01 PM on March 3, 2008


I'm sorry, but you were the one who started out with a facile (and immaterial) dismissal of the work of the IPCC (who weren't so "anonymous" when you made your first comment).

I wasn't dismissing the IPCC. I am very impressed with their work. But, like any organization, they're reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them--and in this case the hand depends on something concrete to do that it can take back to the funding bodies.

But you can feel free to lash out as if I were some kind of evil troll, if that makes you feel any better.
posted by nasreddin at 1:05 PM on March 3, 2008


What are the bases for your opinions?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:08 PM on March 3, 2008


...the only possible substantive reply is a detailed explanation of how, exactly, given realistic growth rates, rising middle classes in India and China, and deep political inflexibility outside of the first world, we can possibly save our own skins anymore.

Depends on how you define "realistic growth rates" (unrealistic growth rates have been the norm for the US for most of my lifetime), or for that matter "rising middle classes in India and China" (there's a rising upper class but they've pretty much insured that the factory workers never become middle class, as they did in the US).

Basically, it's the old line from the auto mechanic hawking oil changes: "Pay me now or pay me later". Either take uncomfortable actions toward sustainability (and force those changes on those who just don't wanna) or face far more painful actions at some future point where the simple desire for survival forces you to take them.

Or, you can be like dios, with your head stuck securely up you ass, taking every unseasonably cold day as definitive proof that you don't need to worry about Global Warming, while trying to ensure that you are in the top fraction-of-one-percent in wealth so that you can always afford a fully-climate-controlled lifestyle no matter what it's like outside and strong enough walls to keep out the 'other people'. Of course, that's the same strategy for supporting the current American Health Care System, so at least it's ideologically consistent.
posted by wendell at 1:11 PM on March 3, 2008


But, like any organization, they're reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them--and in this case the hand depends on something concrete to do that it can take back to the funding bodies.

You do understand that your typical IPCC member is a tenured prof or senior bureaucrat somewhere and in no way dependent on the success of the IPCC as an organization for their professional stability, right? I mean, surely you've sat with chairs of working groups and talked to them about the work, about how the language of the conclusions is determined, all that. Surely indeed you've spoken to any of hundreds of observers and other delegates who were at the round of IPCC meetings (was it '01? about there) who watched a team of Saudi-sponsored "scientists" march into the room where the final language was being decided and neuter and mealy-mouth it almost beyond recognition. Right?

Because otherwise I might be mistaken for thinking that you don't know the first fucking thing about how the IPCC functions.
posted by gompa at 1:12 PM on March 3, 2008


If you scale wind energy usage to the level of our dependance on oil, you will probably shift global weather patterns. Future is solar coupled with, guess what - a severely reduced population and attendant usage.
posted by sfts2 at 1:17 PM on March 3, 2008


Future is solar coupled with, guess what - a severely reduced population and attendant usage.

So no role whatsoever for geothermal, tidal, nuclear, or biofuels, then? Why rule all of those out? Biofuels alone probably have more potential than solar.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:23 PM on March 3, 2008


I'm really intruiged by tidal power sources but I don't hear much about it.
posted by agregoli at 1:24 PM on March 3, 2008


And where are you getting your estimates on wind power from? Pacala and Socolow estimated that we could offset all growth in coal and oil use with 6 million 1-MW peak power wind turbines. How will those change the weather? I'm not even sure I see a clear mechanism for that. Land use conflicts seem like a much more important issue.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:27 PM on March 3, 2008


The long answer about our next fuel is not so grim, however. In fact, plenty of contenders for the energy crown now held by fossil fuels are already at hand: wind, solar, even nuclear, to name a few. But the successor will have to be a congress, not a king. Virtually every energy expert I met did something unexpected: He pushed not just his own specialty but everyone else's too.

"We're going to need everything we can get from biomass, everything we can get from solar, everything we can get from wind," says Michael Pacheco, director of the National Bioenergy Center, part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. "And still the question is, can we get enough?"

[. . .]

"If you have a big problem, you must give a big answer," says a genial energy guru named Hermann Scheer, a member of the German parliament. "Otherwise people don't believe."

The answers are out there. But they all require one more thing of us humans who huddle around the fossil fuel fire: We're going to have to make a big leap—toward a different kind of world.


National Geographic, August 2005

posted by gompa at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2008


Thanks for the pointer to the Pakala and Sokolow paper, I hadn't heard of it before. Reading it, I see a few problems:

1. Their target threshold is 500 ppm, which, according to the second link, has now been revised downward to 350 and makes stabilization itself a guarantee of failure.

2.
An entire wedge would be created if the United States were to reset its carbon intensity goal to a decrease of 2.11% per year and extend it to 50 years, and if every country were to follow suit by adding the same 0.15% per year increment to its own carbon intensity goal.


Every other country? From what I've read, there's considerable difficulty achieving even the 1.96 decrease, and I haven't seen anything that says we've been exceeding expectations on that front.

3.
Option 5: Substituting natural gas for coal. Carbon emissions per unit of electricity are about half as large from natural gas power plants as from coal plants.

Unworkable, because Russia is the world's number one supplier of natural gas and there is NO way America and Western Europe are going to give it that much power.

4.
Option 12: Renewable hydrogen.

I thought the hydrogen economy was supposed to be a myth, due to the energy required to electrolyze it?

5.
Option 13: Biofuels. Fossil-carbon fuels can also be replaced by biofuels such as ethanol.

According to a recent study, it looks like this may actually make things worse.

6.
Option 14: Forest management. Conservative assumptions lead to the conclusion that at least one wedge would be available from reduced tropical deforestation and the management of temperate and tropical forests.
China has recently become the number one consumer of forests, and its policies in Southeast Asia and Africa are deliberately designed to allow them the maximum access to forest resources--which implies that it will be very difficult to prevent deforestation in the future.

I'm not qualified to comment on the rest, but in general the article is crippled by failure to consider geopolitical realities.

What are the bases for your opinions?

Astrology, crystals, and tea leaves.


Because otherwise I might be mistaken for thinking that you don't know the first fucking thing about how the IPCC functions.


Listen, you can try to intimidate me if you want, but are you seriously saying that the IPCC could issue a paper that said "Further progress no longer possible. End transmission" without jeopardizing millions of dollars in grant funding? I mean, "options for adaptation and mitigation" is right there in the mandate. What exactly am I missing? And doesn't the anecdote about the Saudis pretty much prove my point?
posted by nasreddin at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2008


Look here. My wife is a witch, and according to my diligent research her titties are not cold. Not even a little bit. Really quite warm, in fact. And this can be scientifically proven by bringing hands that have been chilled by half an hour of shoveling snow to rest upon them. If witches' titties were cold, the shrieking I caused yesterday would not have happened, and I would not now be a very sad, very sorry man.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:40 PM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, and P.S., DOOOOOM.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:41 PM on March 3, 2008


I don't think that market forces are a panacea. At the same time, it's not reasonable to assume that people will not change their behaviour when oil is at $5 a gallon (in the US) or their family becomes middle class (China).

Similarly, the policies of industrial countries will change faster as the scale of the problem becomes more and more apparent, no matter how much you think the politicians are in the pockets of the industrialists.

Is that a panacea? No, but as a policy wonk (not a specialist in this area), I've seen the debate in Britain move from 'is it happening' to 'what do we do about it' very rapidly. I won't bore you with talk of ESCOs, renewables obligations and the Merton Rule, but some basic frameworks around housebuilding, energy supply, etc., are being rewritten with CO2 reduction in mind.

This doesn't, of course, answer the question 'is it enough?', and there's a non-zero chance that it isn't, but the pace of policy change is accelerating as much as the pace of climate change.
posted by athenian at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2008


Thanks for the pointer to the Pakala and Sokolow paper, I hadn't heard of it before.

Seriously? I'm having a hard time understanding how you could have said that "Lovelock is, of course, completely correct", then. I mean, this is pretty much the paper that people cite at the beginning of their talks now. I know about it, and I don't even do energy.

That "of course" in your first comment is a real disservice to the complexity of the issues, nasreddin. Forgive me for thinking that you perhaps don't (or did not) fully appreciate this complexity.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2008


And I'm not saying that he's wrong, either. I don't have any fucking idea, frankly. And neither do you.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:45 PM on March 3, 2008


All growth? How about existing usage? You don't think taking all of that energy from the wind will change weather patterns? How could it not? Clear mechanism? Its basic common sense.

Land use, would surely be another issue.
posted by sfts2 at 1:48 PM on March 3, 2008


"oh, I think that people will continue to push the idea that the science isn't clear on global warming for as long as they possibly can, and then very quickly switch to the idea that it's become too late, that there's really nothing to be done about it. Anything to keep things business as usual."

Well said, nanojath. Pretty much sums up my take on it.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:50 PM on March 3, 2008


Its basic common sense.

The fuck it's not. How is it basic common sense? How much energy in the wind, total? Am I suppose to know that off the top of my head? Is that common sense? Do 6m wind turbines take out 10% of the energy? 1%? 0.00001%? How much needs to be taken out before global weather patterns are affected?

If it's common sense, give me a common-sense mechanism. How do the windmills change the weather? Has modeling work been done to confirm this mechanism? If now, how could I go about doing this modeling?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:52 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


OK, maybe not common sense, but seems pretty intuitive to me. Jesus Christ, you have air moving from place to place, you stick these things in it to suck all the energy that we use out of it, and you think its not going to have an effect? Your perogative, I expect it will when its scaled to that level. I guess its hard to imagine, just like thinking, oh, how could we pollute the seas, they're so big...use all that oils? Why, there's trillions of gallons...eat all the fish in the oceans...blah, blah, blah.

And I never discounted other sources of energy like geothermal, I'm just not so pedantic. As far as geothermal goes, I wonder what the effect of taking all that heat out of the earth might be over a period of hundreds of years.

Like I said, solar, and a severely reduced population. I mean, severely reduced.
posted by sfts2 at 2:00 PM on March 3, 2008


OK; here's a paper looking into microclimate effects. I don't think anyone has ever suggested an effect on global weather patterns, however.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:01 PM on March 3, 2008


mr_roboto, while I appreciate that you may be an actual professional in this field and thus highly sensitive to stupid shit people say on the Internet, I'm just a moderately informed amateur and thus implicitly consider all comments in this thread to be prefaced by a big "I think."

In my best judgment, it's too late. This is based on what I've seen happen in history, which is what I study, and on what I observe going on geopolitically. Obviously, I don't know what will happen in 50 years, or tomorrow. But there are historical parallels--universally-acknowledged moments of crisis when the adoption of specific policies would have meant the difference between survival and complete failure--and by and large, humanity doesn't have a great track record at this kind of thing, because it's all too easily derailed by frustratingly irrelevant side-issues. (I think the most relevant historical parallel will be the ministry of Turgot).
posted by nasreddin at 2:02 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your perogative, I expect it will when its scaled to that level.

You do realize that there are ways to investigate this questions other than "common sense" and hunches, right?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:02 PM on March 3, 2008


I'm just a moderately informed amateur and thus implicitly consider all comments in this thread to be prefaced by a big "I think."

Fair enough. And I appreciate very much your geopolitical perspective.

However, I also look at the Montreal Protocol; the improvements in air quality with the clean air act and California emissions standards; and the success of the various international protocols that have reduced sulphur emissions and acid rain. I think there's been a really hopeful track record in governments dealing with environmental problems over the past 20 years. Global warming is by far the biggest such problem we have yet to face, but there's reason to hope we are capable of coping.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:08 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


“You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours,”

Changing society? That’s just crazy talk.
Really, that seems to be the bottom line. Convert from profit on disposability to profit from sustainability.
I went into a McDonalds the other day (to use the bathroom) saw a woman, bunch of kids, smoking, really really overweight, driving the huge SUV (nice one, so she or her husband had some money) and it struck me that such things are governed by those forces. That the bottom line of a society is its tolerance for traits contrary to survival in its wealthy.
Not so much income disparity, but lifestyle disparity. The manner in which you can safely get away with excess.
I mean between the Pharoh and a slave, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in the degree to which you could ignore basic survival skills. Middle ages peasant and aristocrat, same deal, you’re eating the same food, you’re covered in shit half the time, either you know how to avoid plague, war, etc. or you die.
Once we get sophisticated enough systems, our efficiency in creating food, hygiene, etc. etc. the conceptual mechanization of how certain things are done (you know more about basic virology than the most sophisticated primative age doctor, but, importantly, you need not know since you are supported by conceptual systems that automatically act on such knowlege) we can more or less ignore (en masse) knowlege that would be otherwise lethal in another age.

The only thing that really need change is that state of affairs would come to an end. A new set of survival skills and presuppositive tools are necessary.
‘Course, folks don’t want to change ‘cos even if they know eating 4 Big Macs is no good for them they also know - or want to believe - that they can survive a bunch of heart attacks and get corrective surgery.
Seems to me Lovelock is mostly saying (metaphorically) corrective surgery isn’t going to work (’cos it’s going to break down), and you’re going to have to diet and exercise.
And also pointing out that many people don’t want to do that.
So there’s a lot of people going to drop dead of heart attacks once the shift occurs. You can breathe in 120 degree heat? No? Bye.

Simply put, it’s not enough for us, as humans, to adapt in order to avoid dying.

Our relationship with the conceptual systems that keep us alive is sophisticated enough and symbiotic enough that we will have to change them - to survive.
And, seems that Lovelock believes, much like a lot of folks don’t want to give up the philly cheese steak, or get on the treadmill so too they don’t want to change those systems. Hence - all work short of systemic change - keeping a fitness journal, not eating donuts as a midnight snack - aren’t going to amount to much.

I think we’ll do it. Money only goes so far.

And Quorn’s great, but where the hell is Tesco's?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:11 PM on March 3, 2008


What's a catch-21? I know about the 22's....
posted by Maias at 2:21 PM on March 3, 2008


wendell writes "Basically, it's the old line from the auto mechanic hawking oil changes: 'Pay me now or pay me later'. Either take uncomfortable actions toward sustainability (and force those changes on those who just don't wanna) or face far more painful actions at some future point where the simple desire for survival forces you to take them."

There is no political will to pay now. Think about it. Republicans are still trying to run on tax cuts, while our deficit is so far out of control that we probably can't pay it back even without tax cuts. There is no long-range planning or thinking at this stage. Hell, our politicians are still arguing about whether we're at fault for global warming. Al Gore comes out with a film explaining the problem in broad strokes, and people still make fun of him for "inventing" the internet. I do think there is a will for change at the moment (see Obama's campaign), but it doesn't extend to making drastic lifestyle changes, which I doubt will happen until it's forced on us out of necessity. Pessimistic? Sure, but show me where we've had the foresight, the will and the follow through to accomplish something this big without necessity. Lovelock mentions WWII, and I think that's probably the last good example. And we did fine, once we were in it, but there was no will to get ready for it, much less participate in it, before it actually happened.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:21 PM on March 3, 2008


WE'RE DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
posted by Krrrlson at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2008


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
posted by Krrrlson at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2008


*inhales*
posted by Krrrlson at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2008


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by Krrrlson at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2008


!!!!!!!!!!1111111111111
posted by Krrrlson at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2008


I envy my children for the opportunity they'll have to build a new, and hopefully better, form of human society.

If they survive.
posted by rusty at 2:44 PM on March 3, 2008


And we did fine, once we were in it, but there was no will to get ready for it, much less participate in it, before it actually happened.

Erm, that was only the Americans, everyone else was gearing up for it throughout the 30s.

Massive changes are underway. The Rubicon has been crossed, the die has been cast. Too late for some, but most of us in the rich west are going to get through the next 100 years fine. A bit rougher and a bit different to how it would have been had we started earlier, but we'll still be driving cars, we'll still be using electricity, and obesity will still be chronic.

The only thing that still really has a big chance to upset the applecart is China and India. First world countries will find it surprisingly easy to cut emissions by 80 - 90 % in 50 years, avoiding the worst excesses of climate change. A small shift in military spending could do it. The two big growth countries are likely to tip themselves and us over the abyss however. This will crash their economies and stop them polluting however.

We still all have to play our part, make the easy changes now, which makes the harder changes later look easier.
posted by wilful at 3:02 PM on March 3, 2008


You know what would be cool?

If the Environmental Catastrophe, Peak Oil, Nuclear War and the Rapture all occurred at the same time...Also zombies.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:52 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think;
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink.
The years go by as quickly as a wink --
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.

"What I can I do about it - I'll just burn all these tyres 'cos China builds 13 new coal power stations every 27 minutes"

... is the 21st Century version of "Eat your vegetables! There are little children starving in China!"
posted by sfenders at 4:03 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is Lovelock senile?
posted by A189Nut at 4:09 PM on March 3, 2008


I went to lunch with an old friend who has been doing research that relates to global warming a couple years ago (she studies the migrations of butterflies in spain, and how the patterns relate to temperature & climate) and I asked her: "What can be done, or is it too late?" and she said "Basically, if we ALL stopped burning ALL fossil-based fuels RIGHT NOW, the planet might start to cool off again in about 100 years."

Real inspiring moment, that was.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:19 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I look at my 2 year old son and hate myself for what is ahead for him.
posted by Senator at 5:42 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can someone make a quick calculation for us? What is the sun's total energy input to the earth (per annum)?

Seems to me that's going to be about our limit for sustainable energy use.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:17 PM on March 3, 2008


From The Wikipedia, total incident solar radiation on the Earth is approximately 1.740×10^17 W.

Converting to years,
(1.17 * 10^17 J/s)*(3.15 * 10^7 s/y) = 3.68 * 10^24 J/y

Given that worldwide energy consumption is approximately 500 quads ~= 5*10^20 J, we have only a measly four orders of magnitude to spare in our energy consumption before we hit the terrestrial limit.
posted by Pyry at 7:34 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool.

Although upon saying that, it occurs to me we're going to need to use some of that energy to maintain the earth's temperature, power the jetstream, run the oceans, and all that jazz.

Still, sounds like we've a way to go before we really hit the wall.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:40 PM on March 3, 2008


Threads like this make me want to revisit all the AskMes on "go bags", survival gear, and living in the wild.

Where are the Google Maps mashups of whatever places on earth will be most habitable in 2030?
posted by rokusan at 9:12 PM on March 3, 2008


Hey didn't some scientist already wrongly predict the end of the world back in 1968? The Population Bomb. I have a hard time believing the scary old scientists, as they've been wrong time and again on this end of the world thing.

I think society tends to find a balance and frequently a solution to these problems given time. We're not perfect, but getting better. In part because market economics guide us towards doing the right thing - it's the allocation of scarce resources. An eye-opening book on the scary scientist field is Trashing the Plant by Dixie Lee Ray, the former governor of Washington state.

And hey were are you going with this? Should we turn off all these computers and servers gulping coal powered juice? Should we turn up the a/c in summer to 82 like the Japanese? Let's make smart decisions about growth, efficiency, develop more sinks and prepare for a warmer world... let's not make silly ones like turning the a/c up to 82.

Did you know one of the top producers of CH4 is the wastewater treatment process. There's the answer - stop global warming, stop flushing your loo and deal personally with your doo-doo. Are you going to pay another $50 a month so your local city treatment plant can upgrade? Plus more funding is needed for the food we eat - all that manure (pdf) is letting off a heck of a lot of methane. The costs add up quick, but some companies are going to make a fortune from solving these problems.
posted by alejandrom at 9:22 PM on March 3, 2008


I suspect that God could appear in front of every citizen in the world and do a little song and dance routine titled "the world is going to end if you folks don't change the way you do things" and most of humanity would still keep the proverbial car pointed at the proverbial cliff.

Not me! I'd get a bike. Or maybe a Prius if it was hilly.
posted by Ritchie at 11:18 PM on March 3, 2008


"Passing the tipping point" implies entering a positive feedback loop.
Earth systems such as change in albedo and release of methane from the Siberian tundra (both started) will accelerate the rate of change, and seek a new, civilization-hostile equilibrium. Once things reach this stage, our ability to affect the outcome is relatively insignificant. Lovelock's Gaia, inured to mass extinctions, takes over.

Note the tipping point happened during G. W. Bush's presidency and that a wise
president, such as Al Gore, robbed of the office by a 5/4 felonious supreme court decision, might have been able to pull off a last-minute save. But the time to get going was the 1960's or 1970's. The idea of human-influenced climate dates back 100 years, after all.
posted by AppleSeed at 3:24 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Listening to Mozart's Requiem while reading thread, for dramatic effect.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:18 AM on March 4, 2008


Where are the Google Maps mashups of whatever places on earth will be most habitable in 2030?

http://www.maplandia.com/antarctic/
posted by nanojath at 12:59 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I will ask several today.

Please abort yourself immediately.
posted by oaf at 2:21 PM on March 4, 2008


California cows start passing gas to the grid
posted by homunculus at 9:07 AM on March 5, 2008


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