Climate change is happening faster than anyone predicted and its consequences could be dire for the survival of civilisation in the 21st century because of the chaos it will cause in terms of famine, drought and mass migration, according to a leading scientist.
James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory, which likens the Earth to a living organism, will tell the the Royal Society in London this evening that humans have in effect declared war on the planetary survival system, causing it to explode out of control.
Man-made emissions of greenhouses gases were triggering a positive feedback in the climate in which temperature increases generated further temperature rises and the release of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from natural stores on land and in the oceans.
"I see our predicament as like that faced by any nation that is about to be invaded by a powerful enemy: now we are at war with the Earth and, as in a blitzkrieg, events proceed faster than we can respond," he will say.
"We are in a strange position of living on a planet where climate and compositional change is now so rapid that it happens too fast for us to react to it."
Professor Lovelock's address will spell out why he believes change is happening faster than many experts had predicted. "The positive feedback on heating from the melting of floating Arctic and Antarctic ice alone is causing an acceleration of system-driven heating whose total will soon or already be greater than that from all of the pollution CO2 that we have so far added," he says.
But Professor Lovelock believes there is some hope that the natural, "negative" feedback cycles of the planet can be exploited to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.