Feeds

back to article Gaia scientist Lovelock: 'I was WRONG and alarmist on climate'

Environmental luminary Dr James Lovelock says he now regrets being "alarmist" about climate predictions. Speaking to MSNBC, Lovelock admitted spicing up his books with headline-catching doomsday predictions. In 2006 Dr Lovelock predicted the Earth “would catch a morbid fever” that would destroy six billion people - "the few …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Silver badge

Re: Not so fast...

"With prior knowledge of the fact that the earth had been warming for 100+ years then the probability of it cooling is significantly less than 50%"

The Earth's temperature had topped off since the 50s and was even falling during the 70s. There was no reason to think there would be warming after the 1980s except for the influence of greenhouse gases.

"this warming ceased to be statistically significant around 14 years ago"

But check the details of that. The 2-sigma trend calculated here for Hansen's temperature record over the last 14 years is 0.095C/decade +- 0.161C

http://www.skepticalscience.com/trend.php

So the 2-sigma range is saying global temperature has been from -0.066C/decade cooling to 0.256C/decade warming over the past 14 years. So yes that means warming isn't statistically significant, but that's because of the size of the error. It isn't, as some people claim, because warming has stopped. It could after-all have been 0.256C/decade.

That large error range of 0.161C is because 14 years is too short. Less data = more uncertainty.

0
1
Bronze badge

So is he wrong

about us needing to build nuclear power stations too?

2
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: So is he wrong

We need a mix of energy generation, and nuclear is good at generating power whilst keeping the waste material away from the rest of the world. (Screw-ups aside.) Until science discovers how to deal with it well. Most other forms have immediate consequences, or else they are too dilute.

2
0
Bronze badge
Go

Re: So is he wrong

What waste?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/sellafield-nuclear-energy-solution

2
0

Easy does it!

Oh man... this is going to be jumped on all over by the likes of the Heartland Institute. Just to clarify Lovelock hasn't said global warming isn't dangerous.

The modest global temperature increase of 0.8 - 1 degree is [actually] very significant. Even small annual variations in sea surface temperatures of 0.5 of a degree can cause rains to fail and terrible draught (as has happened in Brazil this year). A 1 degree warming is also a global average and doesn't show what is happening regionally (for example a 6 degree warming in polar regions, with almost no warming on the equate and some areas getting cooler). Yes the Earth is warming on AVERAGE but not everywhere. The negative consequences arise from the fact that we are ill adapted to survive in the resulting environments.

Yes, Lovelock was alarmist but simply because he, like many others, underestimated the complex buffering systems the Earth possesses (e.g. negative feedbacks). We may never have a complete picture of the Earth system dynamics. But with a rate of warming unseen in the last 55 millions years, who can have blamed him. And surely is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the lives of 7 billion people.

13
28

Lovelock: "The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing."

Which raises the question: how come he's the bigshot climate scientist, and you're the nameless El Reg commentard? You certainly seem to know quite well what the climate is doing -- get Dr. Lovelock on the phone!

20
0
Silver badge
Devil

Re: Easy does it!

"we are ill adapted to survive in the resulting environments"

Actually, humans are ill-adapted to survive in a huge range of environments, mostly at high latitudes and altitudes. We survive anyway in these conditions because we have the technology to make it so.

Bushmen in the Kalahari, Indios in the Amazon forest etc can survive with extremely basic technology combined with huge knowledge of their environment, mostly because they need very minimal shelter and only very basic clothing, because it's rather warm in those areas. Global warming will INCREASE the range of environments where humans are adapted to survive.

Of course, it will also cause lots of problems for species more adapted to the cold, and it will cause all sorts of unforeseen circumstances that will cause new technological problems for humans to solve. But not being adapted to survive in warmer climates is really the least of worries for the human race if the earth is 1 or 2 degrees warmer

13
1

Re: Lovelock: "The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing."

"how come he's the bigshot climate scientist"

He's not. HTH.

2
1
Alert

Re: Easy does it!

A modest temperature change of 0.8 - 1 degree is far less than what we experience between night and day, let alone summer and winter.

It's not like we are suffering from "falling rain or terrible drought" now is it?

Oh, wait a minute...

2
6
Mushroom

Re: Easy does it!

"But with a rate of warming unseen in the last 55 millions years, "

Who's being alarmist then. You mean the Earth's climate is changing so rapidly just because of us pesky humans. We are causing the climate to change faster than that managed by major asteroid impacts, super volcanoes, etc?

Even if it does warm by 1 degree, look back some time in the past and you will see that the Earth went through a cooling period. The Maunder Minimum. The temperature is only getting bouncing up a bit as part of the natural variablility in the climate and will end up around where it was around 1000. It can't be said that the higher temperatures in the past were due to human influence.

8
2
Pint

Re: Easy does it!

"variations in ... temperatures of 0.5 of a degree can cause ... terrible draught"

Damn right, I had to hand back my warm pint of terrible draught last night for a replacement.

5
0
Silver badge

Re: Easy does it!

A modest temperature change of 0.8 - 1 degree is far less than what we experience between night and day, let alone summer and winter.

Yeah, but the thing is, the temperature changes we see between night and day (or even summer and winter) are offset by the other side of the globe experiencing essentially the opposite shift. If you add up all of those localized and offsetting shifts, you get close to 0, which, multiplied by the mass involved, remains relatively close to 0.

The temperature change of 0.8-1 degree is systemic -- experienced over the entire globe. Multiply the energy inherent in 1 Kelvin by the mass of the earth.

1
2

Re: Easy does it!

By the mass of the earth? You mean including all that interior mass which couldn't give a damn what happens to the climate or anything else on the surface?

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Easy does it!

"Lovelock, like many others, underestimated the complex buffering systems the Earth possesses (e.g. negative feedbacks)."

Yes but at least Lovelock and you understood the difference between a negative feedback system (like a 741 op amp, for anyone who remembers those) and the ridiculous "self healing system" (to quote Orlowski) bollocks which followed in massive quantity from those who failed to, or chose not to, understand the science behind Lovelock's work.

Even Daisyworld (readers who don't know it can look it up) isn't a self healing system, it's another negative feedback system, and like any negative feedback system if you take it beyond its sensible limits, bad things will happen.

The number of downvotes you got presumably just illustrates how poor the standard of scientific education is among the readership here.

2
4
Thumb Up

shock, horror, probe

You mean we don't need electric cars?

I think we should have an enquiry

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: shock, horror, probe

How can we have electric cars when "they" are already complaining about being unable to generate enough (electric) power for our existing future demands ?

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: shock, horror, probe (electric cars)

"How can we have electric cars when "they" are already complaining about being unable to generate enough (electric) power for our existing future demands ?"

Really? Are you serious?

If you are, presumably you're not aware that there is a massive difference between peak time maximum electricity demand (in the UK, around 50GW maximum) and off peak minimum demand (something over 20GW), and that you generally charge your electric vehicles OFF PEAK, when electricity supply exceeds electricity demand (and electricity is therefore cheapest)?

The current problem wrt being unable to meet future demands is largely an inability to meet predicted PEAK demands (combined with too much reliance on high-CO2 fossil fuel for electricity in general, peak or off peak).

In fact given a bit of creative use of existing technology the batteries of enough electric vehicles could be used to contribute a GW or two to help bridge that peak time demand gap, by charging up using off peak electricity, and feeding some or all back into the grid at peak times (using the same grid-tied-inverter technology that domestic PV systems already use).

Does that help?

You can watch the UK demand vary and see historic charts at http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/ and

http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/Data/Realtime/Demand/Demand8.htm

0
1
Anonymous Coward

Bugger.

I've been going around telling everyone we're all DOOMED on the good authority of genius climate scientist Dr Lovelock, and now he says he was talking bollocks. Who can you believe?

4
1
Silver badge
Happy

Re: Bugger.

We're still all doomed (I've seen Brian Cox on telly and he said so) - you just need to adjust your prophet or timescale.

4
0
Silver badge

Re: Bugger.

Is James Lovelock a Dr? Or a climate scientist?

I think not.

Funny how that impression is being given though isn't it...

1
1

"the 92-year-old scientist"

ISO standard public dotage again -- why do we let it go this far? There ought to be some kind of charitable organization tasked with going around and collecting our honored dodderers off their street-corner soap boxes and giving them a blanket and a chocolate biscuit or something, it's just shameful, a judgment on our society, to leave them on the street and let them go on about global warming or aliens with prosthetic nostrils or whatever they've fixated on.

1
9

"His books include Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine, The Ages of Gaia, Healing Gaia, The Vanishing Face of Gaia and The Revenge of Gaia."

How was this man taken so seriously for so long? "The Revenge of Gaia". Really.

10
0

"How was this man taken so seriously for so long?"

He wasn't. He's never really been taken seriously in the climate science community. The Gaia hypothesis isn't a falsifiable scientific theory and he's never put forward a convincing mechanism by which it can work. I don't think he has published any actual research on it for forty years. He's an author of popular books. He's quite a compelling personality which is why he gets dragged onto the telly and into the newspapers so often.

(the revenge of gaia sounds like a "mature interest" film)

9
0
Bronze badge

You missed "Gaia vs Predator", "The Gaia Supremacy", "Gaia: The Clone Wars"...

2
0
Happy

You beat me to it. I was going for Gaia Strikes Back and Return of the Gaia.

0
0
Bronze badge

An author of popular books... yes, and more

Dr Lovelock (a proper medical doctor, in the first place) is more famous, in certain scientific circles, for the invention of the electron capture detector than for his popular books. His scientific publication list is lengthy, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society while Mr Orlowski was still in short trousers.

0
0
Thumb Down

Weak.

"Gaia scientist" is a contradiction in terms.

You might as well debunk homeopathy and claim that you've somehow undermined the medical research community.

3
2
Boffin

Re: Weak.

@Some Beggar

Not sure that's very fair. The Gaia idea is interesting (and was part of a general movement at the time of uncovering larger systems which we previously had more or less (intellectually) seen as something between "a given" and "background noise).

It is also a hypothesis, and not unreasonable. What's so crazy about the idea of multi-cellular life forms being part of a higher level multi-cellular life form? When one looks at the biology of us multi-cellular organisms (billions of tiny single-celled (and nested) lifeforms operating in the wierdest ways, well, I'm just blown sideways by the sheer complexity of the thing and how it can possibly exist at all!

The reason it isn't so easy to falsify is because there is no really accepted and working definition of life - there are just too many exceptions to every rule.

If, however, you were to take the definition of the living as something like "that which preserves its own identity" (Maturana and Varela I think) then I'd say that maybe the unexpected levels of self-regulation we *might* be seeing *might* be a symptom of "Gaia".

The joy of science is keeping and open mind, and then trying to pin down what's really going as best we can... and this is a fascinating topic with a lot of work left in it, I'd say.

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Weak.

It's not about lowlife organising itself, or at least it wasn't before his Gaia theories started selling books and airtime.

It's about negative feedback. Go read his early works or for the executive summary go read about Daisyworld.

Negative feedback before eBay was well understood by anyone who understands analogue electronic circuit design (ie very few people these days) and by a few others.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Weak.

It is not a contradiction in terms.

'Science' describes a process, 'Gaia' denotes a starting point.

For example: I take 'All dogs are black' as my starting point, and follow the scientific process. I test, and determine that my hypothesis was wrong. I am no less a scientist than someone whose starting point was 'Dogs are different colours'.

But yeah, we take your point: Disproving the Gaia theory is not the same as proving that Earth's atmospheric make-up is unrelated to climate.

0
0

Re: Weak.

"What's so crazy about the idea of multi-cellular life forms being part of a higher level multi-cellular life form?"

There is no mechanism proposed by this could work and no test proposed to verify whether it is false. That might make it "interesting" to some people, but it disqualifies it from being a scientific hypothesis.

0
1
g e
Silver badge
Facepalm

He's obviously a heretic of some sort

Cue the Warmologists saying 'cue the deniers' as usual, One True Religion and all that guff.

What do they do with Warmology Heretics, anyway. Not like it's environmentally friendly to burn them at stakes, is it, now?

Perhaps they beat them with Hockey Sticks.

18
7
FAIL

Re: He's obviously a heretic of some sort

Burning people at the stake is carbon neutral if you use traditional faggots as fuel. In fact, given that you are eliminating the heretic's future fossil fuel consumption, it would probably act as a carbon sink.

We don't have heretics in science. We have successful theories and unsuccessful theories.

(we do occasionally strip naked and dance around an effigy of Karl Popper)

3
4
Flame

Re: He's obviously a heretic of some sort

>>Not like it's environmentally friendly to burn them at stakes, is it, now?

I's ok; it's carbon neutral unless you douse them in petrol (and as long as the stake is from a sustainable source)

0
0
Unhappy

Re: He's obviously a heretic of some sort

I can't believe people have downvoted the idea of me dancing naked. How incredibly rude.

0
1
Silver badge
Facepalm

Made his money.

So, now he's made his book sales, enjoyed his very extended fifteen minutes in the spotlight, and sauntered off into retirement, only now does he admit he was "alarmist". And the comeback for his exageration is zero. He doesn't have to return any of the money he made from his deliberately alarmist bunk, nor does he have to return any public money he received to fund his "research". Unfortunately, most of the AGW faithful out there will continue bleating his "teachings" regardless, never accepting that Lovelock took advantage of their stupidity to make a buck or two.

14
7
FAIL

Re: Made his money.

He made his money selling books. He's allowed to do that because he doesn't live in North Korea. Feel free not to buy any of his books.

Or ... you know ... throw a little hysterical strop about an imaginary gravy train.

Whichever makes you feel better about your life.

9
7
Silver badge

Re: Made his money.

"Unfortunately, most of the AGW faithful out there will continue bleating his "teachings" "

I have never heard anyone advancing Lovelocks views.

The attempts to put Lovelock at the centre of AGW is pathetic.

2
1
Happy

Gaia pls

As long as the profits he made on those books with dodgy dust-jacket get ploughed back into Earth's good causes - who cares ... the Earth will have healed herself.

0
0

Pot...

"Speaking to MSNBC, Lovelock admitted spicing up his books with headline-catching doomsday predictions"

"Shale gas fracking ruled safe, but must stop at drop of a hat"

0.5 on the Richter scale equates to approximately 350KJ. Force = mass x velocity => if you drop the hat from a height of 1m it will be travelling at 4.4ms-1 when it hits the deck. From that we can determine that either -

a) the hat has a mass of ~79700Kgs; or

b) the pot has cast aspertions as to the kettles colour.

:)

2
1

Eh?

WTF are you talking about?

Incidentally,

f = m * a

2
0

Re: Eh?

He's presumably talking about impulse rather than force. The basic arithmetic and underlying point remain: you would need to drop a truly massive hat to cause a ripple on the Richter scale.

(and if you're going to attempt pedantry then force is written as an upper case F)

0
0

AGW has done its job now anyhow.

The profit making mechanisms have been set up by governments and those who offer them a cut of the action and Carbon Trading is likely here to stay. People like Lovelock have their small share of the plunder so can retire comfortably and enjoy it.

Now that things are in place the terrifying AGW predictions will dry up and perhaps we'll have another scare..

The problem then is that nothing is actally being done to help plan for climate change, to ensure that energy production meets demand or to ensure our negative impact on the environment is kept to a minimum.

3
2
Anonymous Coward

When the earth was teaming with the largest , most varied and abundant plant and animal life it has ever seen, global temperatures were significantly higher than even the most scaremongering GW predictions allow.

5
0
Anonymous Coward

That's all good and well, but I'm not a Trilobite and I don't have gills either.

2
1

Destruction of negative feedback mechanism

Gaia and the Global Warming issue are both all about feedbacks, negative or positive. The (relative lack of) warming in the last decade or so would tend to indicate one or more of:

a) The scary positive feedbacks which Hansen et al were warning about in the 1990's either don't exist or haven't triggered yet

b) Negative feedbacks exist which weren't recognised before (clouds?)

c) The apparent pause is just the bottom end of a cycle (e.g. PDO) and abnormal service will be resumed shortly.

I think Lovelock got scared by (a), and temporarily forgot (b), which is the basic premise of his whole Gaia idea.

*But*, and this is a big but, one of the things he pointed out at a talk a few years back which resonated with me is that we are systematically destroying the mechanisms of negative feedback - forests in particular. That to me means we need to focus back on all those traditional Green issues such as deforestation, soil loss, pollution and population control - many of which are also good carbon reduction strategies just in case the positive feedback folk are right after all...

10
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Destruction of negative feedback mechanism

Quite right - Lovelock is a cyberneticist, not an environmental scientist, however it's still odd to see that he doesn't seem know about the el nino/la nina effects on the environment - ie: It's only as cool as it is at the moment because of the cooling effect of la nina, without which it would be much warmer.

Also odd that the "deniers" seemed to spout off about how Gaia theory was hippy rubbish, until the main proponent of Gaia theory started saying that "global warming was wrong, mkay"

4
3
Silver badge

Re: Destruction of negative feedback mechanism

"a) The scary positive feedbacks which Hansen et al were warning about in the 1990's either don't exist or haven't triggered yet"

Positive feedbacks in climate exist and are always in play (lookup albedo feedback and water vapor feedback for example).

1
1
Bronze badge

Not wholly repentant - nor that he spiced up all his books

The article reports Lovelock saying that he was “extrapolating too far." and in “Revenge of Gaia,” (2006) "he had gone too far in describing what the warming Earth would see over the next century."

But

"he would not take back a word of his seminal work “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth,” published in 1979"

0
0
IR

I didn't think that any scientist subscribed to his Gaia theory anyway.

3
0
This topic is closed for new posts.