Renewed Doomsday Debate Abroad
It is hard to imagine any American news organization doing what The Independent of London's online edition did this week: give top billing to a dire global warming scenario from a leading environmental scientist.
"The world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive, according to James Lovelock, the scientist and green guru who conceived the idea of Gaia -- the Earth which keeps itself fit for life," the liberal London daily reported Monday.
The Independent's coverage was prompted by the upcoming release of Lovelock's new book, "The Revenge of Gaia," in which Lovelock says the Earth is "seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years."
Lovelock's "profoundly pessimistic new assessment" suggests "that efforts to counter global warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late," wrote the Independent's environmental editor Michael McCarthy.
"In making such a statement, far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist of comparable international standing, Professor Lovelock accepts he is going out on a limb. But as the man who conceived the first wholly new way of looking at life on Earth since Charles Darwin, he feels his own analysis of what is happening leaves him no choice," McCarthy wrote.
"As the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics," he contended.
"Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves...Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable," he said.
Are Lovelock's dire predictions well-founded enough to constitute news?
The Independent followed up with reaction from various environmentalists, who share Lovelock's concerns over global warming, but seem "unable -- or unwilling -- to agree with the awesome proposition that it may already be too late to stop it."
When The Scotsman sought out climate specialists for their reaction, several said his prediction was less a certainty than a "worst case scenario," albeit a welcome one.
Dr. Richard Betts, a climate modeler, said, "In terms of billions of dead, I don't know that anyone really knows what the cost of climate change is going to be in terms of lives. There are a lot of physically possible mechanisms for major climate change, but the flip side of that is a lot of these things are unlikely."
"There is no evidence that we have passed any tipping point already," Dr. Myles Allen, head of the climate dynamics group at Oxford University's physics department to The Scotsman. "That said, today's levels of greenhouse gases could already be dangerously high if we kept them at today's level."
Professor John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research, described Lovelock as "one of the most influential scientists on the environment for many years now" whose views have to be taken "very seriously."
"It is a very extreme scenario he is using, but we are at least on the road towards disaster," Schellenhuber said. "If there was five or six degrees Celsius of warming over the century, that would be a different world."
"I can understand Lovelock's pessemism, but I don't agree with it," scientist Tim Flannery told the SMH. "You just have to keep up hope ... We've got maybe one to two decades to address the issue,'' he said.
Lovelock's comments drew virtually no news coverage among the U.S. media.
By Jefferson Morley |
January 18, 2006; 11:10 AM ET
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