The Dark Side of Climate Change

From Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet. Posted July 7, 2009.
The Dark Side of Climate Change

As the fight over cap-and-trade intensifies, human-driven climate
change denialists like Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe will draw the
lion’s share of the media spotlight reserved for the bill’s critics.
This is unfortunate. The real debate is not between the bill’s
supporters and the dead-ender climate clown club. It is between cap-and-trade’s supporters and its critics within the scientific and
environmental activist communities. Groups like Greenpeace and
Friends of the Earth have science if not politics on their side when
they decry Waxman-Markey as an industry diluted half-measure with
soft gums that falls far short of what is necessary to avoid
cataclysmic climate change later this century.

“The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new
generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions,” said Greenpeace in a statement the day before the House vote. “To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history. We simply no longer have the time for legislation this weak.”

This view is shared by leading climate scientists like James Hansen
and his peers around the world at leading research centers such as
the UK’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research, which
urge more significant and immediate cuts than the finance-sector
friendly cap-and-trade system can deliver.

There is another, fourth voice in the debate over cap-and-trade, one ringing out from shadows rarely approached by the media. In these shadows dwell scientists who believe the time has passed for any sort of legislation at all, no matter how radical. The best known of these frightening climate gnomes is the legendary British scientist James Lovelock, father of Gaia Theory and inventor of the instrument allowing for the atmospheric measurements of CFC’s. In recent years, Lovelock has emerged as the world’s leading climate pessimist, raining scorn on the new fashionable environmentalism and arguing that the time is nigh to accept that a massive culling of the human race is around the corner.

“Most of the ‘green’ stuff is verging on a gigantic scam,” Lovelock
told the New Scientist shortly before the release of his latest book,
The Vanishing Face of Gaia. “Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It’s not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it’ll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning.”

Those who read Lovelock’s controversial 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, know that hope junkies should keep a safe distance from the 90-year-old scientist. Lovelock, who has been compared to Copernicus and Darwin, years ago arrived at a disturbingly stark conclusion about Earth’s climate future. His prognosis is now starker than ever. The small window of short-term hope he left open in Revenge is closed in this year’s Vanishing. In its place is a long-term hope that humanity in some form will survive the present century, though barely. The result is a dark and contrarian work that seeks to demolish the terms of the climate debate while mocking our response to the crisis at the personal, national, and species level.

Lovelock has not arrived at his views lightly. They are the product
of years spent carefully considering the known science through the
revolutionary and frequently misunderstood lens he began developing 40 years ago while working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena. Gaia Theory holds that Earth possesses a sophisticated planetary intelligence that responds to levels of heat from the sun in such a way as to maintain a climate homeostasis supportive of life. In four decades of research and experiment, the most famous being the “Daisyworld” model, Lovelock has overcome the once-widespread skepticism of his peers to officially move Gaia from a Hypothesis to a Theory. He has established that the various
components of the biosphere — plants, animals, minerals, gases, the sun’s heat — interact in such a way as to create and maintain a climate amenable to life. Far from a passive collection of independent actors responding to conditions, the biosphere’s contents, including humans, form a living web which actively creates and maintains those conditions. Gaia prefers these conditions and will do her best to maintain them. But there is a limit to how much Gaia can do if we keep running over the safety mechanisms — negative feedback loops — she puts in our path. Lovelock believes that we have pushed Gaia beyond the point of return. The cold seas, for example, can only pump down so much of our carbon before they cry mercy and turn to acid.

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