Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lovelock in the Independent

Via Stoat, I find that Lovelock is getting himself some press coverage for his new book. His article is full of lots of alarmist nonsense, including the gem
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
Some quantitative estimates too:
as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics
I don't know what planet he's living on, but these estimates are ridiculous. The globe will probably warm by about 2-3C in the next century, with oceans and tropical areas generally warming less than the average, and land and northern latitudes warming more. Something in the region of 8 degrees warming by the end of the century might be about right for the north pole, but not for the UK. 5C in the tropics is simply make-believe.

I hope that intelligent readers will see this for what it is - a plug for his new enviro-horror fantasy thriller, and not a scientifically meaningful comment any more than the execrable Crichton. It's a shame to see formerly-respected scientists "go emeritus" (see here for another) but his past achievements do not immunise him from criticism.


markbahner said...

"The globe will probably warm by about 2-3C in the next century,..."

On what projections for atmospheric methane concentrations, CO2 emissions, and CO2 atmospheric concentrations do you base this estimate?

James Annan said...

For that level of precision, all that matters is that CO2 continues to rise in roughly the same way to what it's been doing, for at least several decades to come. We've already got more than half a degree of warming "in the pipeline", so by about 2050 something like 1.5C minimum will be unavoidable even if CO2 was stabilised at that point. Which seems more than a little unlikely as no-one has any hint of a clue as to how this could be achieved.

By 2010 we will already be about 0.2C of the way there...

markbahner said...

"...so by about 2050 something like 1.5C minimum will be unavoidable even if CO2 was stabilised at that point. Which seems more than a little unlikely as no-one has any hint of a clue as to how this could be achieved."

You mean...other than fusion, fast-neutron fission, photovoltaics, methane-powered fuel cells, etc.?

"By 2010 we will already be about 0.2C of the way there..."

0.2C relative to what date? 2000? 2005? (1990?)

Do you have any estimate for where we will be in 2030, relative to 2000?

James Annan said...

I'm sure that new technologies will develop, but I doubt that they will substantially replace coal and oil in places like China annd India in the next few decades. A broad change-over from oil to coal will of course itself substantially increase CO2 emissions.

For the temps, I'm basically talking about a 2000 baseline. The current trend is about 0.2C per decade, implying ~0.6C warmer by 2030 (perhaps 0.5C is a marginally better estimate). There will still be a further ~0.6C committed change at that point. Both of those together add up to quite a lot of warming compared to what we have seen so far.

Note that even the likes of Pat Michaels readily accepts a future trend of 0.15C/decade.

James Annan said...


This book would be a good place to start.

giordano bruno said...

Lovelock says:
hotter = scrub & deserts
colder = global forests
Sounds nice & reasonable
paleoclimatologists (which JL is not)
state that
warmer = more rain, more forests.
colder = mode dust, more deserts.

Anonymous said...

Where Lovelock's conclusions about the degree of temperature change come from has to do with the trillions of cubic feet of methane now trapped in the sediments on the oceanic floor. We now know that the oceans are warming, even down deep. Only a slight increase - about a degree centigrade-will unthaw this methane and runaway warming will begin. It will be quite a spectacle to see the ocean surface on fire! Even if this does not occur, the 2-3C rise over 100 years will mean 6-8c at the poles, and a sealevel change of +50 feet.

James Annan said...


Perhaps he (and you) could benefit from reading the realclimate post on clathrates.

50ft of sea level rise by 2100 is fantasy. 1ft would be nearer the mark (2ft is
possible - I think the upper end of the TAR's range is likely to come down
slightly in the next report).

Anonymous said...


"Within the next decade or two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean."

I do believe that Lovelock's forecast of severe temperature rise by the end of the century due to positive feedback loops is correct.

In particular, melting permafrost contains an estimated 400 billion tons of methane trapped in ice called hydrate. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in a business-as-usual scenario 50% of the surface permafrost will melt by 2050 (and 90% by 2100). Methane is more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2-a sudden release of 35 billion tons would be like doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, this recent Lovelock forecast is alarming. I am aware that historically, widespread climate changes have occurred with astonishing speed.

The earth’s climate does not respond to forcing in a smooth and gradual way. Complex systems like the atmosphere and ocean currents are known to move from one steady state to another with only very brief transitions in between.

Yet, a large temperature rise in such a short time is an alarming prediction. If it wasn't THE Dr Lovelock (who discovered the detrimental effects of CFCs, and sounded the alarm that saved humanity from depleting the ozone layer) I would dismiss it out of hand.

I urge any reader of this posting to seriously consider Dr Lovelock's dire prediction. If he is correct, we don't have decades to change course-we have years to say our prayers and set our affairs in order.

It won't just be our selves that die, it will be our country, our culture, and our civilization.

Or dismiss this as the Blogger so casually dismisses Lovelock's previous (more moderate) prediction of a severe temperature rise by the end of the century.

Let me remind you that scientists were very far off the mark predicting the speed of Arctic glacial melt-instead of centuries, the glacials soften, crack, melting, and break apart much much quicker than consensis scientific opinion predicted.