James Lovelock White Paper

Considered thoughts on the James Lovelock Guardian Interview

  1. The UEA e-mails: I have also not read them as I know they have been selected from probably 10,000 e-mails, and if just these few could be found to create some mayhem then I reckon that is amazing.  The independent review has also concluded absolutely nothing was done wrong and the science is clean and not misrepresented.  So I was downcast with the e-mail publicity in some ways but not in others as (selfishly) it opens the way for a completely different approach that reaches its conclusions without relying on almost anything in any IPCC report.  But I agree absolutely with James’ dislike of the current education system (turning out poorly educated young people) and the funding for research (which skews both the research itself and how it is reported).
  2. I agree with him that we should put our research into the public domain and be willing to be challenged on it, but if the research is ‘out of the box’ and from an ‘out of the box’ approach, it is difficult for the establishment to take it seriously.  Many eminent scientists at first had their work ignored or effectively binned as it could not be ‘peer reviewed’.  Charles Darwin completed his ‘The Origin of Species’ some 15 years before he published it as he assumed he would be pilloried for it.  So putting work in the public domain is fine if it is what is called ‘Peer Reviewed’ but difficult if it isn’t. Most research is elemental – it advances something one small step – and can be reviewed by scientists in the same field.
  3. HOW I AGREE WITH HIM WHEN HE SAYS THE COMPUTER MODELS HAVE TAKEN US OVER.  AND THAT THEY ARE INCOMPLETE.  In my work on climate my starting point was that the models do not and cannot work – at least within any timeframe that is going to save us.  In fact in some ways they are causing the world to delay any action plan as they keep moving the goal posts.
  4. On the skeptics: I am not so inclined to agree with him on this one. E He is totally I do not appreciate those who know little about the subject using their status to force their views on the world, especially when I do not find any grounding or substance in their arguments.   They are usually driven by a strong desire not to alter the economic way we live or our consumption of ever dwindling global resources.  However, we have to show their arguments have no substance.  James argues we are past the point of climate salvation which I structurally agree with, but taking that view means we need a great deal of action quickly, and the skeptics simply delay the action he (and many of us) desperately wants.  I agree we need a careful and even a skeptical approach, but that should come from inside the science not from individuals who shout louder than anyone else.  ALL the scientists I know are real gentlemen and most wouldn’t say ‘boo to a goose’.  They are not going to go into the public domain to defend themselves or their science – so those who shoult loudest get away with it – and the media respond to volume not content.  They only want a good story and an argument provides that.  Nobody in the media is remotely qualified to academically judge the science.  Take the BBC reporter who was standing interviewing somebody with an electric car.  There was a lead running between his legs which he was told was from a plug in the house – and he declared it was the Holy Grail as it was zero carbon transport.
  5. James says Garth Paltridge (sceptic) has a good book which he agrees with.  It says if we put 1T tons of CO2 into the atmosphere he expects the temperature to rise but by how much and when is open to debate.  There are huge issues with dating ice – which is extremely difficult to do where its gas content is concerned.  I therefore strongly disagree that there is about a 1,000 year delay in a temperature response to a CO2 increase.  Indeed, it really has to be wrong as in that sort of time frame the CO2 should have dropped out of the atmosphere!  And I disagree that the temperature often goes in the opposite direction to the one expected – unless of course we have incomplete information on which to base our expectation.   So we can predict the right effect IF we understand the complexity of inputs.  I agree with him in challenging the accuracy of some of the predictions which is proven by the rapidly changing predictions.
  6. I am troubled when he says “It is almost certain you cannot put 1T tons of CO2 up there without anything happening”.  I respect the uncertainty BUT 1m years of climate history make a climate change a certainty with this addition of CO2 rather than a high probability.
  7. I agree on Copenhagen.
  8. On the IPCC: I don’t think their reports have ever made sense as back in 2002 I lectured in Bristol University saying so.  Mine is not a recent conversion.
  9. On the scientists being very poor because they don’t speak up – see 4 above underlined.
  10. On democracy: I said it earlier.  The huge Vested Interests with $trillions at stake control government so government will only go seriously for changing our way of life when enough Vested interests have enough interest in the change – not in the status quo.  People eventually revolt – and when they realise the incompetence of the political system and the cliff they are faced with – there will be a demand for action that cannot be resisted. This is what we are trying to achieve between us.
  11. A monster proof – like the breaking off of Pine Island Glacier.  James says it would raise sea levels by 2m instantly which would mega shock me but if he says so I am in n o place to disagree.  But in about 1980 many of us knew we needed action, and waiting for such an event means we are lost.   The Mid West is becoming a dust bowl, but before that California is out of water, as is London, Spain and so on.  So the hard evidence is building rapidly and sooner or later it will have to be recognised as such.  I agree the next IPCC report won’t achieve much for two reasons:

a. The scientists are going to be extremely cautious and

b. If they report they had it totally wrong before they lose credibility.

c. My climate work is from a completely different perspective while driven by the same raw data.  It might be interesting to see what if any reaction occurs.

12.    Nuclear and I will argue fiercely on this.  I disagree that it is cheap; disagree that it is low carbon (it will soon be high carbon); wrong to put it in the UK where we have the biggest renewable resource of any nation.  Wind turbines do of course work as can several other true renewables, and I fundamentally disagree that adaptation is the thing to do.  This means investing to cope with the problems.  If sea defences to save London are appropriate, then massive sea retaining structures are required in umpteen cities around the world.  I am in little doubt some adaptation will be required, but investment in adaptation is money not invested in solving the source problem.  By my estimation just the coming food supply problem is going to be a staggering problem, so available funds need to be invested where the return is highest.

13.   James says he doesn’t know enough about carbon trading but thinks it is a scam.  My position is that he is completely correct as the price of carbon set by the carbon exchange has nothing whatsoever to do with the cost of carbon.  It is the result of a political decision which sets the ‘amount’ of carbon that can be emitted.  After that it is the supply/demand situation which sets the price.  If the EU politicians required less carbon to be emitted – the price of carbon would rise.  The general price is around €15 which is ridiculous – if you understand the scale of impact carbon is about to have.  It is surely going to be that the earth will be less able to support humanity and animal and plant life, so a real ‘cost of carbon’ should incorporate the value of life itself.  The reality is that since the EU introduced carbon trading (strongly supported by Gordon Brown as he wants the EU to lead the world in this activity), EU carbon emissions have risen.  This is because it has been cheaper for businesses to emit the carbon and buy the credits than cut carbon.  And the sources of the carbon credits are about as untrustworthy as other environmental accreditations.

14.   On humanities ability to fight climate change – James says we have not evolved enough, but I don’t agree, or just maybe don’t want to as I do understand his position.  His assumption is based on the inability of our institutions (political, economic and vested interests) to react and take the necessary decisions in the time available.  I am arguing through my web site that our political system is ineffective and undemocratic, but this is true of most if not all other nations as well.   However, the authority of government is technically vested in it by the people.  Now the big question is ‘What will happen when the public at large understand the scale of the problem they face?’  Will they sit back and be told what their fate is or will they revolt IF government doesn’t do what is required?  I million demonstrators may not have stopped the Iraq war, but I wonder what would have happened had 5 million demonstrated?  Or a higher number?  There is a point where government has to do what the people want, and I have always assumed that the political system will not react in the timeframe necessary unless pushed, which is why all my work is going into the public domain in a format that is hopefully understandable by all.

Mike Hillard