Saturday, June 23, 2012

Conversion of an Alarmist

Over the last decade or two a lot of environmentalists have tried to cajole and browbeat the rest of us into accepting that the earth is warming at an alarming rate, that this warming will have devastating consequences, that human activity is the cause, and that we need to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere immediately if we're to avoid global catastrophe.

Skeptics, citing the ambiguities in, and the thinness of, the evidence, have been, well, skeptical. It turns out that they're in good company. One of the founding fathers of the global warming movement, James Lovelock, has not only modified his former stance but he's also become very critical of the warmist "hysteria." The Toronto Sun has the story. Here's the crux of it:
Two months ago, James Lovelock, the godfather of global warming, gave a startling interview to in which he acknowledged he had been unduly “alarmist” about climate change. The implications were extraordinary.

Having observed that global temperatures since the turn of the millennium have not gone up in the way computer-based climate models predicted, Lovelock acknowledged, “the problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago.” Now, Lovelock has given a follow-up interview to the UK’s Guardian newspaper in which he delivers more bombshells sure to anger the global green movement, which for years worshipped his Gaia theory and apocalyptic predictions that billions would die from man-made climate change by the end of this century.

Lovelock still believes anthropogenic global warming is occurring and that mankind must lower its greenhouse gas emissions, but says it’s now clear the doomsday predictions, including his own (and Al Gore’s) were incorrect.

Among his observations to the Guardian:

(1) A long-time supporter of nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which has made him unpopular with environmentalists, Lovelock has now come out in favour of natural gas fracking (which environmentalists also oppose), as a low-polluting alternative to coal.

As Lovelock observes, “Gas is almost a give-away in the U.S. at the moment. They’ve gone for fracking in a big way. This is what makes me very cross with the greens for trying to knock it … Let’s be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it.” (Kandeh Yumkella, co-head of a major United Nations program on sustainable energy, made similar arguments last week at a UN environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, advocating the development of conventional and unconventional natural gas resources as a way to reduce deforestation and save millions of lives in the Third World.)

(2) Lovelock blasted greens for treating global warming like a religion.

“It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion,” Lovelock observed. “I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use … The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air.”

(3) Lovelock mocks the idea modern economies can be powered by wind turbines. As he puts it, “so-called ‘sustainable development’ … is meaningless drivel … We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient and unpleasant. I personally can’t stand windmills at any price.”

(4) Finally, about claims “the science is settled” on global warming: “One thing that being a scientist has taught me is that you can never be certain about anything. You never know the truth. You can only approach it and hope to get a bit nearer to it each time. You iterate towards the truth. You don’t know it.”
In an age of politicized science, Lovelock seems to be one of a diminishing breed. He seems to be a scientist actually concerned with believing what's true and following the evidence wherever it leads. When nonagenarian philosopher Anthony Flew, impressed with the mounting evidence of design in the universe, abandoned his life-long atheism critics attributed his conversion to his advanced age and mental dodderiness. I wonder if the 92 year-old Lovelock will be the target of similar cheapshots.


I mentioned about a month ago that a friend of mine named Stephen Martin had recently written a wonderful book titled The Messy Quest for Meaning which I highly recommended for the lessons Steve imparts about life and the delightful style which he employs to impart them.

As it happens Steve also has a blog called Messy Quest in which he uses anecdotes, often self-deprecating and humorous, to illustrate how we might live a fuller more meaningful life. It's really very good, but one post in particular, a homily on humility is especially worth reading.

He starts it off this way:
The other night, for the first time, I showed up for men’s doubles night at some local tennis courts. There’s a hierarchy that determines the court on which you play. I was assigned to the court reserved for those with the lowest skill level, based on the fact that I’d never played there before and perhaps because the tennis pro in charge intuited how bad my backhand really is.

I was wandering around trying to locate Court #6 when a very tall, very old guy with exceptionally creaky knees stopped and pointed me in the right direction. As I thanked him, I couldn’t help thinking, “What the heck is that guy doing here? He can barely move.” But he was in fact there to play. And he was heading, quite slowly, toward Court #6.

When we got there, along with two other guys about my age, he introduced himself as Mac. Then he told us he’d been playing on the tennis club’s courts since 1965.

Math has never been my strong suit. But it didn’t take long to calculate that was five years before my parents had even met. No, wait, six years!

We warmed up by hitting some balls across the net to each other. I did my best to hit them right to him, so close that he wouldn’t have to take a step. I’m not always the most astute of men, but I definitely didn’t want to go down in history as the punk who, on his very first night on the courts, felled one of the club’s Founding Fathers with a deep lob.
Go to Messy Quest and read how the rest of Steve's story unfolds. You'll enjoy it.