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Lovelock: we're too stupid to prevent climate change
March 30, 2010 5:18 PM   Subscribe

James Lovelock, 90, says we're too stupid to prevent climate change. "I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change." One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added in an extended interview. "I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while." He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica.
posted by stbalbach (78 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well I think he's certainly right in this: Whatever happens as a result of carbon emissions is going to happen - no bugger is going to do the slightest thing to stop that now, bar theodd bit of ineffectual political window dressing.

SO we can hope the more alarming models are wrong, and react to whatever happens as it happens, but other than that, nothing.
posted by Artw at 5:23 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


no hope

except maybe 'hope you have at least 1 bullet left'
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:24 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


yeah... I don't think even a giant glacier collapsing in Antarctica will do the trick. He may be right in asserting (essentially) we reached a technological peak way too soon on a cultural evolutionary scale.
posted by edgeways at 5:26 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


"I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war."

Erm, nah, I'd take climate change over real war any day of the week. And aren't wars between democracies exceedingly rare?
posted by mullingitover at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2010


I'm sure democracy would be allowed again once everything is perfect according to the elite ruling humanity for their own good.
posted by codswallop at 5:28 PM on March 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.

I understand where he's coming from, but I can imagine global warming "skeptics" latching on to this sentence. "See?! See?! Our precious bodily fluids!"

If it were a literal war, I'm sure they'd be behind it all the way of course.
posted by brundlefly at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


God damnit, brundlefly, I had a great snark with exactly that theme just ready to post.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2010


Pretty sure any severly affected parts of the world will have enough literal war and removal of democracy to go around.
posted by Artw at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


of note, of course is that China is a big carbon emitter and isn't exactly as bastion of democracy. Although, they could become a massive leader in carbon reduction, if sufficient technologies seems profitable enough, a lot easier than the US. Sooo... I guess my point is a bit muddled.
posted by edgeways at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's worse than that. I don't think people will seriously try to oppose climate change until it actually starts to interfere with their lifestyles in a material fashion. The collapse of a glacier won't do it, it'll take until we actually start losing cities in first-world countries to sea level rise, or malaria becomes a serious threat across the American south, or something along those lines. And of course we'll be bandaging the symptoms the best we can along the way, with the denialists screaming at the top of their lungs, so the damage will have to be fairly severe - so bad we can't either repair it manually, or pretend it doesn't exist.

The problem isn't just that people are idiots, it's that stopping climate change is going to require asking a hell of a lot of everyone. People will have to dramatically change their lifestyles and what they're willing to live with. Furthermore, there's a competitive aspect to it as well - businesses can't survive making sacrifices that their competition doesn't make, and people will be very reluctant to make personal sacrifices they don't see their neighbors making ('keeping up with the joneses' is a very real impulse, and living in a fashion that protects the environment means giving up a ton of wealth.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:34 PM on March 30, 2010 [18 favorites]


can imagine global warming "skeptics" latching on to this sentence. "See?! See?! Our precious bodily fluids!"

Sure, 'cause only the tinfoil hat brigade would hear "democracy needs to be suspended" when they say "democracy needs to be suspended."

If it were a literal war, I'm sure they'd be behind it all the way of course.

What on earth, excuse me, Gaia, is your basis for that?
posted by codswallop at 5:34 PM on March 30, 2010


Well, for fans of really drastic plans they seem like they'd be well up for any grandiose social engineering projects that end up killing a lot of people.
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Throughout University I would often opine to anyone in earshot while I was drinking that what was probably needed to make any sort of progress on the environmental front was a military coup by the impassioned environmentalists. After a decade or so we would overthrow them, decry their terrible actions, and make reparations to the corporations whose bottom lines were harmed of course.

Oh, post secondary education.
posted by ODiV at 5:37 PM on March 30, 2010


Oh benevolent uberintelligent omnipotent alien dictators, where are you?
posted by lalochezia at 5:46 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


So the winters were worse when this guy was a kid?
posted by cjorgensen at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2010


Oh benevolent uberintelligent omnipotent alien dictators, where are you?

In the comet cloud, waiting for us to adjust the temperature for them.
posted by Artw at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Lovelock, which is probably a stage name, is 90--the elderly always take a dim view of things. Disregard old people. They are usually morbid cranks. I am surprised he did not tell us the price of petrol when he was a kid.
posted by Postroad at 5:58 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


It needs to be bigger than a war, but it doesn't require a suspension of democracy. It requires leadership.

These things aren't linear. We don't have to wait until support for change slowly climbs from 1% to 2% to 3%...to 98% to 99% to 100% before we act. Grassroots is not the only way to get things done. A sufficiently powerful politician in a sufficiently powerful country can make it happen. Leadership got us the New Deal, it got us to the Moon, it ended segregation and (on an ominous note) it got us into Iraq. It can also deal with climate change.
posted by DU at 5:59 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think it's correct in the main; the question is really, what form will the catastrophe that finally provokes us into action take?

The countries doing the carbon emitting are pretty well-insulated from most effects of climate change; it's low-lying nations like Bangladesh and Fiji that are likely to bear the brunt of it, and none of them — at least that I know of — have enough nuclear warheads to matter on the global stage. (Although if some radical environmental group wanted to supply the Bangladeshis with a few nukes, that might change things somewhat, as well as providing decades of Tom Clancy fodder.)

The die is cast at this point. IMO, the best-case scenario is one where continued emissions provoke some sort of immediate catastrophe that compels attention, before things have gone too far; the worst-case is that things proceed slowly, with the carbon levels creeping ever upward, until some mass-extinction tipping point gets hit. I don't think anyone can really say which way things will go; there are just too many variables to effectively model with any sort of confidence in exactly what will happen.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doomed! DOOOOOOMED!
posted by sexyrobot at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lovelock, which is probably a stage name

Lovelock has been famous for 50+ years.

the elderly always take a dim view of things.

The young often take a dim view of things the elderly say.
posted by stbalbach at 6:06 PM on March 30, 2010 [16 favorites]


yeah... I don't think even a giant glacier collapsing in Antarctica will do the trick.

"Today, a giant glacier the size of Australia just collapsed in Antarctica. In local news, it was slightly colder than normal and it snowed a little this afternoon, disproving global warming."
posted by qvantamon at 6:17 PM on March 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


China is already experiencing our future. If perhaps 300 million people in the northeast can live with drought, sandstorms and environmental ruin, perhaps the rest of us can learn to live with it too.

I don't think people will seriously try to oppose climate change until it actually starts to interfere with their lifestyles in a material fashion.

Most of us will never experience the worst effects of climate change. Subsaharan Africa will.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:22 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


So basically, we need a green Stalin to fix things, regardless of the human cost?
posted by acb at 6:24 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


"the elderly always take a dim view of things.

The young often take a dim view of things the elderly say."


I'm not sure, but that may be the first time Postroad was ever called "young" on Metafilter.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 6:24 PM on March 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm a pessimist by nature. I know this. And I'm also mindful of how easy it is for very old men to project their personal doom onto the world at large - i.e. H.G. Wells.

But I don't see a single piece of evidence to contradict his assertion. And since he was right about Gaia, he at least deserves to have his opinion taken seriously.

Besides, my understanding is that even if there were a global, Manhattan Project-scale effort starting tomorrow, we'd still be semi-fucked. And there doesn't seem to be much chance of one any time soon.

I mean, judging from Obamacare, I don't think you can pin your hopes on the Democratic Party instituting any radical new limitations on American corporations. Meanwhile the Republicans refuse to acknowledge a problem exists. (And for bonus points, passively or actively denigrate scientific authority as part of their platform.)

But this is all beside the point. As the dominant political figure of our young century once put it, the American way of life is non-negotiable.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


o basically, we need a green Stalin to fix things, regardless of the human cost?

Green Stalin sounds like a really awesome brand of canned vegetables.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:33 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


HФ HФ HФ, GЯЗЭИ STДLIЙ!
posted by fleetmouse at 6:38 PM on March 30, 2010 [51 favorites]


So a nuclear detonation to increase particulate matter in the atmosphere and cool the earth is a totally crazy idea.

It also seems like it would work, and is a real possibility for 10 to 20 countries right now.

It may be that the first five or six countries that want the earth to be cooler won't do that, but eventually it seems inevitable to me.
posted by poe at 6:41 PM on March 30, 2010


He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica

The Red Comet was far more ambitious. Not to mention overall just plain badass
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 6:41 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.

Why not let things sort themselves out, and figure out the fine points of governance afterwards?
Just because some watery tart threw a sword at you is not the basis of...
posted by ovvl at 6:43 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Grassroots is not the only way to get things done. A sufficiently powerful politician in a sufficiently powerful country can make it happen.

I know you meant that otherwise, but that doesn't sound right. in any event, if the tradeoff is either dictatorship or global warming, I'll take my chances on global warming. Up here in Vermont, 70-degree weather in March (forecast for this weekend) is just peachy.
posted by beagle at 6:49 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


So a nuclear detonation to increase particulate matter in the atmosphere and cool the earth is a totally crazy idea.

Aside from being crazy, doesn't it cause most of the rain coming after that to be radioactive rain?
posted by qvantamon at 6:52 PM on March 30, 2010


YEAH DOOM. HEY, DID YOU SEE HOUSE/LOST/CASTLE?

Seriously, not a fucking thing is going to change unless televisions are remotely exploded enmasse. People are way too distractable.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


From Gaia's perspective, it's better that we kill ourselves off as quickly as possbile.

So, you know, it's all good.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:04 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


since he was right about Gaia

That's stretching a point. Lovelock has been firmly ensconced in doomsayer mode for a good while now; his recent assertions on the immediate impact (that is, within our lifetimes, mainly) of global warming are far beyond anything predicted by the mainstream of research-based climatology. Not that I'm particularly optimistic about the prospects of global technological civilization over the next 500 years, but I'm sure not looking to Lovelock to deliver useful science on what's coming in the near term.
posted by nanojath at 7:05 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


codswallop: "can imagine global warming "skeptics" latching on to this sentence. "See?! See?! Our precious bodily fluids!"

Sure, 'cause only the tinfoil hat brigade would hear "democracy needs to be suspended" when they say "democracy needs to be suspended."
"

You utterly missed my point, which was that the "tinfoil hat bridade" would view statements like Lovelock's as support for their (utterly horseshit) belief that the issue of global warming is a con and a giant commie plot.

If it were a literal war, I'm sure they'd be behind it all the way of course.

What on earth, excuse me, Gaia, is your basis for that?


Sorry to paint with a broad brush, but I've noticed a significant correlation between people being "skeptical" about global warming and being perfectly willing to throw out key democratic concepts (human rights, habeas corpus, etc.) when it comes to armed conflict.
posted by brundlefly at 7:10 PM on March 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


Up here in Vermont, 70-degree weather in March (forecast for this weekend) is just peachy.

Up there in Vermont the lack of freezing weather at night in March meant the maple syrup harvest was a third of normal, which isn't so peachy.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:20 PM on March 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


his recent assertions on the immediate impact (that is, within our lifetimes, mainly) of global warming are far beyond anything predicted by the mainstream of research-based climatology.

It's true. Unfortunately, current measurements of climate have also been far beyond anything predicted by the mainstream of research-based climatology.
posted by one_bean at 7:23 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


nanojath: " Lovelock has been firmly ensconced in doomsayer mode for a good while now; his recent assertions on the immediate impact (that is, within our lifetimes, mainly) of global warming are far beyond anything predicted by the mainstream of research-based climatology."

Oh, he may be way off on the timetable. I'm persuaded by Kadin2048 that the odds are impossible to calculate at present.

But his fundamental point that we're "too stupid" as a species to avoid poisoning ourselves to death sooner or later seems to me self-evident. Though it would be more scientific to say "too primate".
posted by Joe Beese at 7:24 PM on March 30, 2010


While I'm certain there's good odds democracy will be put on hold (or, perhaps it already has, depending on your definitions), I definitely know corporate interests which got us into this problem will not let go.

And that's going to be a bigger problem than democracy.

From their point of view, why bother changing our behavior? When we can encourage people to move into nice new homes built on higher ground? Higher prices for everything! Bigger bargaining clubs to beat down third world nations into shitty trade agreements ("Hey, we'll grow you basic food if let us take the last of your oil supplies!") Contracts to build desalination plants? A nice new northern shipping passage to ferry goods across the northern hemisphere?
posted by yeloson at 7:29 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Don't worry! Weather forecasters tell us the outlook is sunny.

Sources may or may not possess an actual degree in meteorology. None in climatology.
posted by stinker at 7:39 PM on March 30, 2010


fleetmouse: "HФ HФ HФ, GЯЗЭИ STДLIЙ!"

that is quite funny, and it transliterates as something like "nf nf nf, gyazehee (S)td(L)ihi" (S and L are letters that do not exist in the Cyrillic alphabet).
This is based on middle school Russian classes, but I think it is mostly right.
posted by idiopath at 7:40 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Corporate interests which got us into this problem ...

We got us into this problem, my friend. Corporate interests simply supply our wants and needs. No evil. Just ordinary people rationally maximizing their advantage and producing exhaust.
posted by Faze at 7:41 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's the planet that's stupid, not us.
posted by swift at 7:42 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well the only thing that'll straight-up stop anthro climate change is some sort of energy revolution along the lines of Mr. Fusions in every home. You can set up dictatorships, and that'll work for a while, until some new dictator who doesn't care happens to seize power.

Human beings are not disciplined enough or foresighted enough to deal with anything like this through collective action.
posted by furiousthought at 7:45 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while

Oh, fuck you, you elitist prick.

(Robert Heilbronner told me the same thing over a decade ago. That just means you're a unoriginal elitist prick, too.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:47 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we are too stupid to survive with democracy, we're too stupid to survive without it. At least, more than a few of us. Stalin's highly-organized plans resulted in massive starvation, and dictators in general tend to run things into the ground even faster, especially as they have a way of assassinating people with good ideas that might make them look stupid or threaten their power in any way.

It's funny how you can get to 90 and still not learn anything from history.

It's possible we're an evolutionary dead-end. I hope not. Seems like we should be smart enough to avoid our own extinction, but who knows.

And besides, I'm enough of a cynic to think that even if we had established an ecotopian paradise by now, some giant fucking comet would come along and off us.
posted by emjaybee at 8:08 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm going to have to vote no on the belaying democracy thing.

And the disaster you should be worried about is a massive release of trapped greenhouse gases from warming tundra or those crazy clathrates or other ocean deposits. Deniers will then claim that it's "natural", not us.

And the way that people will be motivated to do something about greenhouse gas emissions is when the stuff that makes the greenhouse gases gets too expensive to use at our current burn rates.

Besides, what's worst case? Looks like +8C ~500M years ago? I'm sure a few of us will probably survive.

Solar for power, some sort of nano systems for desalination. Food would be interesting.
posted by dglynn at 8:10 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any sufficiently advanced technology climate change is indistinguishable from magic war.
posted by odinsdream at 8:17 PM on March 30, 2010


While his wording is poor ("suspending democracy") I suspect it has to do with his age and perceptions of what Britain did during WWII. To some degree that *was* suspending democracy. So his point should be taken in the more flattering light: climate change is such a huge and important problem that we should apply ourselves as if we were at war (real war as in WW II not pansy modern wars). During WWII (remember his age folks!) pretty much *everything* was secondary to the war effort. He clearly considers climate change to be similarly a big deal.

Can you honestly say massive climate change is less of a risk than Nazi Germany?
posted by R343L at 8:24 PM on March 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


octobersurprise Oh, fuck you, you elitist prick.

Traditionally democracies aren't put on hold by the (intellectual) elite. People like Lovelock come up with ideas like democracy in the first place. In any given society the elite tend to be highly intelligent, productive, argumentative, inventive and creative types--a lot of us qualify--who wouldn't have a clue what to do with an obedient peasant class if they had one, let alone how to make the peasantry obedient in the first place. And even if they did know how to force obedience, they probably wouldn't be willing to dirty their hands, and souls, in doing so. Elites as a rule try to make non-elites into elites, making them into equals rather than seeking power over them.

Democracies are put on hold by megalomaniacal narcissists like Stalin, Hitler, Trujillo, Mugabe, and so on, who pursue personal power, to whom "the elite" are a threat (and rightly so), and so it is their usual procedure on taking power to suborn, drive out, or kill off as many of the elite as possible.

"Green Stalin" is an appealing, and appalling, concept. Knowing as a company director that if your factory pollutes beyond a certain amount, you will be dragged from your mansion and hung in front of that factory is a powerful incentive not to let it pollute. A lot more powerful an incentive than anything democracy normally threatens its financial "elite" with.

Which is another issue. Democracy has for at least a hundred years been turning into plutocracy, because money can buy votes, and politicians. It can't buy off Green Stalin. He will burn your money, and you on top of it, because anything that money might get him, he believes himself to already own.

I don't doubt that Lovelock is correct. Unpleasant news as it is, and deserving of schoolyard insults as he may be for saying it. The question is whether the cure is worse than the disease ... and if the implications of climate science are correct, then the answer is no. No, the rule of Green Stalin is better than us all drowning and starving and suffocating.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:32 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Just ordinary people rationally maximizing their advantage and producing exhaust.

I'm doing my part by cutting back on burritos.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:35 PM on March 30, 2010


He's only considered "elite" because he is 1. European (socialist!) and 2. Scientist (liberal!) .. if he was from Alaska and shot moose he would not be elite. The actual ideas don't matter so much in determining ones elitetitude.
posted by stbalbach at 8:48 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much 10000 molotov cocktails worth of CO2 costs on the cap and trade market?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:58 PM on March 30, 2010


Faze: Just ordinary people rationally maximizing their advantage and producing exhaust.

This is nonsense. Please explain why the same non-evil people that fought tooth and nail to avoid tobacco regulation in the US are the same ones fighting tooth and nail to prevent climate change science from hurting their profit margins.
posted by sneebler at 9:27 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Im not sure I buy the idea that it's democracy, and not the people running it. The basic problem sadly is people. We are social animals in an odd way: when someone screws the collective for their own personal gain, its nowhere near the crime as when someone screws over an individual. Actually, in American culture, screwing the collective is regarded as being 'industrious' so long as you aren't committing outright fraud.
posted by cotterpin at 9:27 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've always agreed with pretty much everything James Lovelock has said about climate, and I now find him agreeing with me (though admittedly he has no idea I exist) - because I've thought this for years.

Actually, I don't think suspending democracy will definitely work either. What we really need is a bunch of omnipotent aliens aiming lasers at us until we clean up our act.
posted by dickasso at 9:37 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Factoring in industrial bioreactors, solar films, artificial photosynthesis, how can one seriously predict CO2 levels in the next 50 years. It seems equally likely that we will industrialize CO2 extraction in the name of preventing AGW and end up having to regulate CO2 consumption. Suppose Craig Venture does it and builds the bio-reactors he's talking about. A hundred thousand acre-feet of water in tanks somewhere in the southwest start sucking up and making more fuel than opec. Cheap gas, more plastic and we are faced with more of the real problem facing us today which is: People are too f-ing fat from eating too much food and sitting on the butts playing farmville on Facebook because they are too bored at their desk job and too distracted by their mobile phone to get anything resembling real work done. Kids in America are projected to live shorter lives because of the abundance of cheap high calorie low nutrition meals. I don't recall the chapter in population bomb from 30 years ago where we would be eating so much food we'd all die at 50 from obesity.
posted by humanfont at 9:40 PM on March 30, 2010


Corporate interests simply supply our wants and needs.

Have you considered the manufacturing of Christmas? How SUVs suddenly came into existence? Or how the popular fish types mysteriously change after the previous species was fished out of existence? Marketing tobacco to children? Electronics that need to be replaced every other year? Toys getting smaller and smaller because it's cheaper for manufacturers?

It's pretty fascinating how our wants and needs drive the market... as long as someone else is at the steering wheel.
posted by yeloson at 9:52 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Good gravy, people, is apocalypse porn so satisfying no one will point out that James Lovelock is a dottering old fool who was once a very important scientist but is so far out of touch now that it's actually irresponsible, in my opinion, for a legit news outlet to print his uninformed rants?

Huh. Guess so.

Okay, fine, fuck it. I'll tackle just one bit of the senile untruths of the formerly esteemed Gaia hypothesizer:

If wind turbines really worked, I wouldn't object to them. To hell with the aesthetics, we might need them to save ourselves. But they don't work – the Germans have admitted it.

He's right, you know, this is exactly what they "admitted" when they installed 2 goddamn gigawatts of wind power capacity in 2009 alone. And pushed rapidly forward with plans for 10 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next ten years. Not to mention re-upping their commitment to all things renewable in 2008 - under a Conservative chancellor who opposed the whole idea back in 2000 when the legislation first passed. Boy howdy, James Lovelock, you sure have the inside track on the state of the modern cleantech industry.

Anyway, if anyone wants to read the words of a green-minded sage who's been at this game a very long time and still knows how to learn a new trick or two, do yourself a favour, skip the linked Lovelock dithering and read Paul Hawken's 2009 University of Portland commencement speech instead.

I'll get you started with a quote:
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.
The difference between Hawken and Lovelock - one of 'em, anyway - is that Hawken is still actively engaged in the world around him. Which saves him from embarassing himself by lying about wind power and much else in the Guardian. QE-fuckin'-D.
posted by gompa at 10:43 PM on March 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


That should've been "one bit of the senile untruthiness." Sweet Jesus fuck this thread's gone and thrown my equilibrium all to hell.
posted by gompa at 10:46 PM on March 30, 2010


I've studied US history at least a bit, and I don't recall any cases where democracy was put on hold during a war.

Didn't the US hold an election in 1864 during a Civil War? And in 1944, during the largest war in the history of the world?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:39 PM on March 30, 2010


Sad thing is climate change is probably the brightest part of our predicament. I consider the energy crisis to be the worst impediment to solve our environmental problems.

We need energy to do the work required to change our energy model (wind turbines, PV cells, even nuclear plants in the scale needed would need huge amounts of energy and materials). And this comes at the very moment or very near peak oil, which would put an enourmous amount of stress to our economies.

It is an error to talk about "climate change", we should be talking about our energy model crisis. CO2 might be a problem (the exhaust pipe problem), but we have other problems at other ends too (the fuel problem). Meanwhile, talking just about CO2 could lead to phantasies like carbon capture and sequestration...
posted by samelborp at 1:22 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm going to have to vote no on the belaying democracy thing.

Vote?
posted by asok at 2:53 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


In any given society the elite tend to be highly intelligent, productive, argumentative, inventive and creative types--a lot of us qualify--who wouldn't have a clue what to do with an obedient peasant class if they had one, let alone how to make the peasantry obedient in the first place.
I need to wipe the smug off my monitor
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 3:56 AM on March 31, 2010


I've studied US history at least a bit, and I don't recall any cases where democracy was put on hold during a war.

Habeas corpus was suspended during the Civil War - not sure if that would fall under "democracy" or "rule of law" or "civil rights," but it is an example of widely accepted restraints on power falling by the wayside during a crisis, which I think is what Lovelock is gesturing at here.

In any given society the elite tend to be highly intelligent, productive, argumentative, inventive and creative types--a lot of us qualify--who wouldn't have a clue what to do with an obedient peasant class if they had one, let alone how to make the peasantry obedient in the first place.

I'd love to hear your definition of "elite." Because out here in the real world, Soviet apparatchiks, French aristocrats, feudal lords, Spartan and samurai warrior castes and members of the Nazi inner circle constitute "elites." You seem to be restricting the term for...what, exactly? University professors and starving artists? Silicon Valley enterpreneurs?
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:01 AM on March 31, 2010


I don't doubt that Lovelock is correct.

Correct about what? That modern industrial democracies are inadequate against the problem of climate change? Possibly they are. Or that a vastly more authoritarian approach would be more effective? The whole history of the twentieth century suggests that this is as wrong as a wrong can be. This notion of "Green Stalinism" isn't even wrong; it's a fantasy, akin to all the fantasies of torture and ticking time-bombs. The most pernicious aspect of this fantasy is the cover it gives to those who oppose any political action to cope with climate change, however freely arrived at.

(Actually, it was two decades ago that I heard Heilbronner speak about how only a "military-religious complex" might be adequate to manage future global misery. (How time flies!) And even earlier he'd written the same thing in An Inquiry into the Human Prospect. In his defense, at least Heilbronner meant this to be a warning, not a solution.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've studied US history at least a bit, and I don't recall any cases where democracy was put on hold during a war. Didn't the US hold an election in 1864 during a Civil War? And in 1944, during the largest war in the history of the world?

Lovelock is English. There was no UK general election from 1935 until 1945, although one was due in 1940. In that sense, British democracy was put on hold for the duration of WWII.
posted by rory at 7:38 AM on March 31, 2010


Up here in Vermont, 70-degree weather in March (forecast for this weekend) is just peachy.

Rain. Five feet of rain in 12 months. 3 inches of rain in 3 days. Where? Philadelphia, PA. And we got off easy! Look at Rhode Island - 16 inches of rain in March. This is one of the many good reasons to refer to the climate catastrophe as "climate change."

Asshat Republican glee over record snowfalls on the US east coast (during a relatively mild winter, one should note, temperature-wise) has evaporated much more rapidly than these huge puddles of rain will. People have come to realize that the snow in February is the same phenomenon as the rain they are drowning in now.
posted by Mister_A at 7:41 AM on March 31, 2010


"So basically, we need a green Stalin to fix things, regardless of the human cost?"

**

Well, at least the algae-powered trains would run on time.
posted by staggering termagant at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica.

Erm....
posted by jokeefe at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2010


It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while

All he's trying to say is that we need to develop a wartime economy, and this time the war is against climate change.

During WWII, bacon drippings were recycled to be used in munitions - it got to that level of detail - and air raid wardens walked the streets at night to make sure lights were turned off or blackout curtains were put up.

We need to develop the same sense of urgency to combat climate change is the real message here.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:45 AM on March 31, 2010


All he's trying to say is that we need to develop a wartime economy

There are ways to say that efforts to prevent a climatic catastrophe are the "moral equivalent of war" without saying that it may be necessary to suspend democracy if that isn't what you intend to say.

We need to develop the same sense of urgency to combat climate change is the real message here.

After reading the interview, I think the real message is that Lovelock laments the day when climatic change stopped being of purely scientific interest, before politicians or, God forbid, the public started thinking about it.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:01 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


We need to develop the same sense of urgency to combat climate change is the real message here.

And that's not going to happen because people are indeed too stupid to change basic bad habits: buying a big house too far from where they need to go every day, buying at least one big car per adult to travel that distance every day, and buying loads of additional crap they don't need and barely want just because there's a slightly New! Improved! model available.
posted by pracowity at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just saw Obama on CNN proposing opening up more oil drilling acreage offshore; cut to the talking head saying he was not saying "drill baby drill", exactly. They had a map with the entire Atlantic seaboard highlighted. The Wall Street Journal article didn't say anything about opening up the Atlantic Ocean, just encroaching closer to the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Burning carbon is proceeding about as fast as we can.
posted by bukvich at 1:16 PM on March 31, 2010


people are indeed too stupid to change basic bad habits

Changing behaviour is very difficult to do, as anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows.

Besides, while climate change is geologic in scope, it is occurring at an exponentially faster pace than geologic time. The massive changes humans have caused are occurring at less than the blink of an eye.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:17 PM on March 31, 2010


Good gravy, people, is apocalypse porn so satisfying...

Obviously it is. It allows people to combine the "everybody is stupid except for me" and the "we are all DOOMED!" rants. I'm not surprised there were a bunch of spontaneous orgasms when this subject popped up.
posted by happyroach at 9:22 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


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