Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Is It Getting Warm in Here?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Is It Getting Warm in Here?

Just in time for a nice, relaxing long weekend, The Washington Post comes up with a long profile of scientist James Lovelock, whose new book, The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity, suggests that recent predictions of global warming have been far too mild. Lovelock is the father of Gaia theory, which suggests that living things on Earth work together with air, sea, and soil so that the planet reacts like a single entity. Like most groundbreaking scientific ideas, it took a while for the scientific community to come around on this one, but it is much more accepted today than when it was first put forward in the 1970s. His new theories also seem drastic, but it's a bit premature to dismiss them out of hand. Here’s some of what he told the Post:

Our global furnace is out of control. By 2020, 2025, you will be able to sail a sailboat to the North Pole. The Amazon will become a desert, and the forests of Siberia will burn and release more methane and plagues will return.

Well, that does sound a bit extreme. But the article explains how he arrived at his findings.

He measured atmospheric gases and ocean temperatures, and examined forests tropical and arboreal (last year a forest the size of Italy burned in rapidly heating Siberia, releasing from the permafrost a vast sink of methane, which contributes to global warming). He found Gaia trapped in a vicious cycle of positive-feedback loops -- from air to water, everything is getting warmer at once. The nature of Earth's biosphere is that, under pressure from industrialization, it resists such heating, and then it resists some more.

Then, he says, it adjusts.

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.

"There's no realization of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing," Lovelock says. "Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take the world 1,000 years to recover."

For more analysis of the book, take a look at this post by David Archer, a computational ocean chemist at the University of Chicago, at RealClimate. (While you're there, you might browse around the site. RealClimate describes itself as "a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists," and it's got some interesting material if your interests fall that way.)

Although the book's been out in the UK for a while, it's only been available in this country for a couple of months. James Lovelace is due over here for at least a couple of appearances coming up this week. I couldn't find an actual schedule, but he'll be lecturing at the New York Academy of Sciences on Thursday and at the Carnegie Institute in Washington on Friday. Here's a preview podcast from his NYAS appearance. For those of us not on the East Coast, let's hope he travels a bit more widely.


Post a Comment

<< Home