The maverick behind the theory that the Earth is one organism rejects the predictions of doom he once made and says last week’s UN climate report is too dark — we can handle global warming
In a lift at the Science Museum, James Lovelock tells me with amusement and mild regret that MI5 has taken away his security clearance.
“I understand,” he says with a wry smile, “because you can’t really trust a 94-year-old with national secrets.”
He was a patriotic worker and adviser for the security services; he was even a real-world version of Q, James Bond’s gadget maker. Those days are gone, but Lovelock still has plenty of other ways to rock the world. There is no better man to rock it. I have met, perhaps, three or four geniuses in my life: I’ve had doubts about all the others, but never about Jim, the greatest scientific thinker of our time.
His latest feat seems to have been to inspire last week’s doom-laden report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“I was a bit surprised and a bit flattered, because they seemed to be saying what I said in my last book but one, The Revenge of Gaia. It was very doomy and saying that all manner of climate change disasters were queuing up and we’d better watch out or we’d be fried or drowned. I was surprised, I thought they’d be more laid-back,” he says.
The irony is that he no longer agrees with his last but one book and thinks the IPCC report is unhelpful. Once he, and now it, had forecast climate-caused floods, fires and wars bringing the end of civilisation in the very near future. Now he is bordering on downright optimistic.
“It’s a rough ride to the future,” he says, echoing the title of his new book, “but I think we can get there.”
What changed? The answers are crocodiles in the Arctic basin and the weather in Singapore. About 55m years ago there was, for reasons unknown, a release of greenhouse gases roughly equivalent to burning all the world’s known fossil-fuel resources today. The Earth warmed massively — as we would expect — but, unexpectedly, life remained intact.