One of the leading experts on planet Earth, James Lovelock, believes that there is very little we can do to stave off global warming catastrophes. Lovelock is the man who created the Gaia theory – that the earth is essentially a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.
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 carbon dioxide."
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.
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