02 April 2015

Lovelock: A Rough Ride to the Future

No question Gaia hypothesis originator James Lovelock's book, A Rough Ride to the Future, is provocative and interesting, but I do get the sense that, at 95, he has come to see himself as an oracle of elder wisdom. This mostly takes the form of a certain degree of contrariness, coupled with a healthy prescription for continuing skepticism. He has changed his views on Climate Change, to the point that he stands in opposition to a lot of the conventional wisdom about what should be done. 
He points out, probably quite correctly, that the complex partial-differential equation dynamic models based on less than ideal data which have been used to model the effects of Climate Change are just not reliable. Already, they have not predicted (both up and down) changes that have occurred since 2000. So, we are, in effect, flying blind. 
He is not a Climate Change denier, though. He says that climate change induced by higher levels of CO-2 is unpredictable, but unavoidable. He notes that it has been the "goal" of Gaia feeback systems since at least the beginning of the current 1 million year ice age cycle, to minimize CO-2 in order to keep the world as cold as practicable, because that actually enhances the biodiversity and flourishing of Earth life. It is simply already impossible to prevent a significant disruption of the Earth's pre-industrial climate. That disruption is already well underway, as we all can see around us if we're willing to take in the obvious. He takes a very dim view of weaning the world from carbon in favor of renewable energy, which he says is not efficient or practical (except nuclear power). Not that many of his colleagues in the climate science/ecological sciences communities agree with THAT. Mostly, in my opinion, he is highly unrealistic about the prospects of moving large populations into new regions. He thinks flooding of places like Bangladesh is inevitable, and that people will have to migrate. 
Maybe he's right, but after criticizing the models being used to game out climate change, he pretty much offers only intuition in place of them (and this from the guy who invented Daisyworld, which is a mathematical model of how the biosphere regulates climate!). He says that belief by non-scientifically trained people that rolling back CO-2 to 18th century levels is even possible, or that it would result in the immediate shift back to the climate regime of that time, is just naive. 
Personally, I suspect, as I've said before, that he is right that climate change is not going to be easily controlled, is unpredictable (we might get lucky; but we have to allow for the likelihood that we will be very unlucky), and that we are going to almost certainly have to do mitigation, including geoengineering, eventually. He mentions the possibility that private actors may take matters into their own hands, citing, as an example, the invention of technology (already done) that can aerosolize seawater on a pretty large scale. Attached to ships, it could be possible to dramatically increase the low level cloud cover over the oceans. But what effect that would have is not really predictable either; it could actually cause drought in areas currently producing much of the world's food, for example. But I suspect that when, not if, things get bad in certain places in the world where the powerful hang out, a lot of questionable and possibly dangerous things will be done. Hence, a rough ride indeed is before us. 
All of this is in the context of his view that technological evolution since 1700 or so has outstripped DNA based biological evolution, and even superseded it as the dominant form of life-change. We don't perceive this clearly, because we are inured to the pace of change. But the rate of rapid evolution shows signs of leveling off, indicating that a new steady state is emerging. Climate change is part of that. But that doesn't mean that the next few decades won't be extremely disruptive. To the contrary, they almost certainly will be. 

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