Lovelock developed the Gaia hypothesis as an outgrowth of his work for
NASA on methods of detecting life on Mars, which he popularized with
his 1979 book Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. He named
this self-regulating living system after the Greek goddess Gaia, using
a suggestion from the novelist William Golding, who was living in the
same English village as Lovelock. The theory drew withering criticism
from many in the scientific establishment, drawing the comparison with
the resistance to the introduction of the idea of plate tectonics
within geology, which took about 30 years before it became universally
accepted as true.
Lovelock's task at NASA was to develop instruments for the analysis
of extraterrestrial atmospheres and planetary surfaces for the Viking
program that visited in the late-1970s was motivated in part to
determining whether supported life. Lovelock's work on the composition
of the Martian atmosphere, led him to believe hat many life forms on
would be obliged to make use of it and, in return, alter it. However,
the atmosphere was found to be in a stable condition close to its
chemical equilibrium, with very little oxygen, methane, or hydrogen,
but with an overwhelming abundance of carbon dioxide. This stark
contrast between the Martian atmosphere and chemically-dynamic mixture
of that of our Earth's was strongly indicative of the absence of life
on the planet.
Today, Lovelock believes that a rapid drop in carbon in the
atmosphere could actually do more damage than good. He believes that
the global warming that we are currently experiencing is offset by a
cooling of 2-3ºC, caused by Global Dimming -essentially, the reduction
of direct irradiance at the earth’s atmosphere as a result of
industrial pollution, known to others as aerosol particles.
It’s a horrible catch 22 situation that leaves only a very small gap
for any joy at all. If we continue to do nothing (note the use of the
word continue), then we will doom ourselves. If we do do
something, like a massive cut back in the emission of carbon in to our
atmosphere, Lovelock believes that we would further damage Earth.
"Any economic downturn or planned cutback in fossil fuel
use, which lessened aerosol density, would intensify the heating,”
Lovelock will say, in a lecture to the Royal Society today. “If there
were a 100 per cent cut in fossil fuel combustion it might get hotter
not cooler. We live in a fool's climate. We are damned if we continue
to burn fuel and damned if we stop too suddenly."
What’s worse is that Lovelock believes that the 2007 Nobel Peace
Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are
underestimating the severity of climate change. He has labeled a report
issued by the IPCC earlier this year as "properly cautious", adding
that he believes the report leaves a tone of “we can fix this”, when
there is none. He continues and adds that a possibly six to eight
billion people will suffer food and water shortages, intolerable
climates, and the extinction of entire ecosystems.
"We are at war with the Earth and as in a blitzkrieg,
events proceed faster than we can respond." In his speech to the Royal
Society, he will argue that when a model includes the whole Earth
system it shows that "…when the carbon dioxide in the air exceeds 500
parts per million the global temperature suddenly rises 6ºC and becomes
stable again despite further increases or decreases of atmospheric
carbon dioxide. This contrasts with the IPCC models that predict that
temperature rises and falls smoothly with increasing or decreasing
The man who has come under criticism by the Oxford evolutionary
biologist Richard Dawkins, is not solely alarmist. He believes that we
should attempt to lower greenhouse gases, and minimize the destruction
of forests; but he believes that that will simply not be enough.
The bottom line, according to Lovelock, is that we will simply have to adapt.
Posted by Casey Kazan with Josh Hill.
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