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James Lovelock’s gloomy vision

David Archer, Real Climate (“Climate science from climate scientists”)
James Lovelock, renegade Earth scientist and creator of the Gaia hypothesis, has written a gloomy new book called “Revenge of Gaia”, in which he argues that we should be stashing survival manuals, printed on good old-fashioned paper, in the Arctic where the last few breeding pairs of humans will likely be found after a coming climate catastrophe. The book is not published in the U.S. yet, but it is available from Lovelock has never been one to shrink from a bold vision. What is it he sees now?

… We should be very clear. No one, not Lovelock or anyone else, has proposed a specific, quantitative scenario for a climate-driven, all out, blow the doors off, civilization ending catastrophe. Mr. Lovelock has a feeling in his gut that something terrible is going to happen. He could be right, but for what it’s worth, there aren’t any models that explode as catastrophically as this. We can never say that it’s impossible that something might fall out of balance, something we haven’t thought of. But I think in general the consensus gut feeling among small-minded working scientists like me is that the odds of such a catastrophe are low.

Low odds of catastrophe does not imply negligible. Nordhaus [2001] considered the possibility of catastrophe in his analysis of the economics of climate change. He defined catastrophe as comparable to the Great Depression, a 25% decrease in global economic activity that lasts for a long time. The probability of such an event he estimated by polling the gut instincts of a group of climate scientists; for what it’s worth, they came up with probabilities of a few percent. Economically, Nordhaus found that this possibility imposed the largest cost of adapting to climate change, greater than the costs of sea level rise, potential change in storminess, and so on. My own belief is that economics is a flawed tool for managing global climate, because it neglects issues of fairness, and reduces the value of the natural world to units of money. The point is that, within this framework, a small possibility of a large catastrophe looms large as a practical issue.
(13 February 2006)
Interesting review of Lovelock’s book by a computational ocean chemist at the University of Chicago. Some bio information on author David Archer is bio here (toward end of page) and on his personal page. Thanks to Big Gav for recommending the article.

The UK Independent on climate change

Various authors, UK Independent
Several articles in the past week, all via Common Dreams.

Climate Change: On the Edge (“Greenland Ice Cap Breaking Up at Twice the Rate It Was Five Years Ago, Says Scientist Bush Tried to Gag”) by Jim Hansen

Sea Levels Likely to Rise Much Faster Than Was Predicted by Steve Connor

Global Warming ’30 Times Quicker Than it Used To Be’ by Steve Connor
(February 2006)

Interview: Sir David King, Britain’s top scientist and climate crusader
(“The King and I”)

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has earned a rep as a global leader in the fight against climate change, and, at least in part, he has Sir David King to thank for it.

King, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser and an outspoken advocate of aggressive action to forestall global warming, has pushed the climate crisis up the PM’s priority list. He was instrumental in making the U.K. the first nation to commit to greenhouse-gas reductions that go beyond Kyoto, and in positioning climate as one of two top issues at last year’s G8 summit, hosted by Blair.

King’s headline-grabbing rhetoric has put climate change in the spotlight, and King himself in the hot seat. He’s become a target of the American right and been publicly heckled by U.S. climate skeptics during lectures. He has also raised the ire of some in the environmental community for arguing that nuclear power, gasified coal, and carbon sequestration are necessary weapons in the battle against global warming.

Q: Your comment that climate change poses a bigger threat to humanity than terrorism turned a lot of heads internationally. How did you come to this conclusion?

A: That sentence originated from an article I wrote in Science. I pointed out that, for example, the 30,000 deaths in Europe from the hot summer of 2003 — which have been closely correlated to global warming — indicate the kind of security problems we are faced with.

Let me be clear: I in no way diminish the threat of terrorism to our society and way of life, quite the reverse. It is a very serious threat. But I don’t think it is even comparable to the threat to our civilization that global warming represents.
(17 February 2006)

Dispatches from a NATO gathering on Middle Eastern water woes
(“A Thirst for Knowledge”)

Eric Pallant, Grist Magazine
You might think there’s just one valuable liquid resource causing trouble in the Middle East. But surprise! There’s another: water. This past week, NATO sponsored a gathering of scientists and others in Israel to explore the region’s water woes, from the shrinking Dead Sea to battles over drinking supplies. Eric Pallant, a codirector of the event, sends dispatches from the ground.
Eric Pallant is a professor of environmental science at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and codirector of the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Integrated Water Resources Management
(13 February 2006)
Four-part series. Related: In Deep Drought, at 104°, Dozens of Africans Are Dying (NY Times)

California governor to push global warming fight

Mark Martin, SF Chronicle
Bold policy gambits expected in bid to lower greenhouse gases
Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is expected this month to release a plan to combat global warming that recommends raising petroleum prices and requiring industries to report, for the first time, their greenhouse gas emissions.

The increase in gas prices would fund research into alternative fuels.

Nine months ago, Schwarzenegger garnered international headlines by calling for California to mount an aggressive effort to address global warming. Now he faces the difficult part: shepherding new policies into place that could affect every car owner, farmer and big industry in the state.
(17 February 2006)

Waterworld: how life on Earth will look 1,000 years from now

Nigel Hawkes, London Times
AN APOCALYPTIC vision of life 1,000 years from now has been painted by a team of scientists studying the effect of global warming.

If mankind does not put its house in order, temperatures could have risen by 15C (27F) by the year 3000 and sea levels by more than 11 metres (36ft), flooding much of London, the team, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says in a report for the Environment Agency. Abrupt changes could make Britain much hotter, or even – such is the uncertainty of the predictions – first colder and then hotter.

This could happen if the North Atlantic current system collapsed, denying Britain the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Ocean surface temperatures would fall by 3C (5.4F), but as the Arctic sea ice melted, they would rise again by 8C (14.4F) in an abrupt turnabout over a period of no more than about 20 years.

Climate Change on the Millennial Timescale is the first study to examine comprehensively the impacts of global warming beyond the end of this century. It calls for continued efforts to cut the emission of global-warming gases to prevent the changes from getting out of control.
(17 February 2006)

Mountaintop-removal mining is scarring Appalachia and its low-income communities

Grist magazine
Most folks know coal mining is a dirty and dangerous business, triggering everything from miner’s lung to deadly accidents. But the mountaintop-removal mining increasingly common in Appalachia poses dangers not just to miners but to whole communities already struggling to get by. In recent years, this hugely destructive process — whereby the tops of mountains are sliced off to get at coal within, and the resulting rubble dumped in nearby streams and valleys — has triggered lethal flooding, spurred a rash of illnesses in school kids, and even unloosed a massive boulder that tumbled down a hillside into a home and crushed a 3-year-old while he slept. Powerful coal companies resist any reforms, but fed-up locals are fighting back.


  • We Live It Every Day (The faces and voices of West Virginians battered by mountaintop removal)

  • Moving Mountains (Mountaintop-removal mining is devastating Appalachia, but residents are fighting back)
  • The Legend of Weepy Hollow (An except from Missing Mountains, a new book about mountaintop-removal mining)
  • Walk This Way (A virtual walking tour of Columbia, Miss., with Charlotte Keys of Jesus People Against Pollution)

(February 2006)
Latest installment in Grist’s Poverty & the Environment series.
Related: Wendell Berry in “Missing Mountains”.