Green campaigners support Lovelock for sparking fresh debate on global warming

A A A

Leading British greens have taken a divided view of the prediction by the environmental scientist James Lovelock, featured inThe Independent yesterday, that the Earth has passed the point of no return for global warming.

Somefully shared his concern for the speed at which global warming appears to be proceeding, and gave credit to his scientific expertise, while finding themselves unable - or unwilling - to agree with the awesome proposition that it may already be too late to stop it.

"If any of us back up behind that idea we might just as well slit our wrists," said Aubrey Meyer, the director of the Global Commons Institute, which campaigns hard for an approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions known as Contraction and Convergence, based on moving to equal emissions entitlements per person everywhere around the globe.

"But what [Professor] Lovelock is predicting will come true if we carry on as we are. To stabilise the rising concentrations, emissions must contract to nearly zero within ... 50 years."

Tony Juniper, the executive director of Friends of the Earth, said Professor Lovelock was right to sound the alarm. "But he's premature in writing humanity's obituary," he said. "There's still a narrow window of opportunity, and the priority must be to campaign for changes to make the most of that, not to assume that all is lost. "Assuming there's nothing to be gained means we're very likely to fail."

Professor Lovelock bases his predictions of disaster on the hypothesis that the Earth has for billions of years had a planetary-scale control system which keeps it fit for life - three decades ago he christened it Gaia.

The Gaia system, founded on the interaction of life-forms with their environment, is made up of feedback mechanisms that have previously acted in a benign way for humans. But because of the way the environment has been damaged by us, Professor Lovelock says, it may start to act in a way harmful to humanity and amplify global warming to such an extent that it is impossible to control.

Britain's most famous environmentalist last night declined to dismiss the too-late warning out of hand.

"If there was one scientist you would listen to on a proposition of that kind, it would be Jim Lovelock," said Jonathon Porritt, now head of the Government's Sustainable Development Commission. " Is he right? I simply don't know. I'm not enough of a scientist to make a judgement. With many people you would be tempted to dismiss the idea, but Jim is different."

Stephen Tindale, Greenpeace's executive director, also thought the man who conceived of Gaia might not be wrong. "The Earth may be doomed," he said. "Certainly the news from the natural world over the last year has been unremittingly bad: the oceans acidifying and less able to absorb carbon; the permafrost melting and giving up its methane ... All these things suggest that the positive feedbacks may have kicked in; we may have crossed the threshold. But we can't be certain, and so we can't give up the fight. While there is hope that catastrophe can be averted, we have a moral duty to keep trying.

"I believe that if governments take emergency action, climate change can still be controlled. So let's get on with it - and pray that we aren't too late."

Peter Melchett, the policy director of the Soil Association, shared a key concern of Professor Lovelock. "Right from the beginning there's a been a real worry that we would hit some point where the feedback mechanisms would all work against us," he said.

"But as to climate change being already unstoppable, I don't know, and I don't think Jim Lovelock knows either. There are still uncertainties about it all, and personally and instinctively I remain optimistic about the human race's ability to change direction ... It's our political and, shall we say, our psychological ability that's in doubt."

Mark Lynas, the author of High Tide - News from a Warming World, a travelogue showing places where global warming is already in evidence, said civilisational collapse was no longer just a scary possibility. "It's the most likely outcome if coal, oil and gas use continue to rise," he said. "Either we implement a radical programme to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, or we need to start taking measures to prepare for post-collapse survival in the few areas which will remain habitable by the end of this century. The choice is ours.

"Lovelock telling us it's already too late should not be seen as an excuse for fatalism ... But his statements should be a reality check."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers