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Essential reading: a book to read and acted upon
on 23 April 2009
This is without doubt the most frightening book that I have ever read. Not because the author is peddling green propaganda - but because he isn't. It is written in a very urbane and personal style, and Lovelock almost goes out of his way to avoid sensationalism. However, his stark message is that global heating is happening, that the cause is unequivocally humankind, and there's virtually nothing we can now do to stop it. We are on an ever steeper slippery slope. The primary cause is simply that there are too many people on the planet (about half of all human-generated greenhouse gas emission is caused simply by our existence - our breathing, eating, and other biological activity, plus those of our pets and livestock). This makes nonsense of any long range emission reduction targets for 2020 or 2050 which are unachievable without drastic reduction in the total numbers of people.
Lovelock points out that observational data show the world is heating up faster than the most pessimistic scenario from the IPCC models. He makes it crystal clear why the IPCC, even though it includes many excellent individual scientists among its membership, is incapable of presenting a model which actually bears any relationship with what is really happening. Consensus reached through a fundamentally political process is not a mechanism that will ever achieve scientific truth.
The message is not wholly pessimistic, though. There are actions that we can take - and urgently should take - to slow this headlong rush to catastrophe even if we cannot halt or reverse it. Wholesale transition from fossil fuels to other sources of energy is necessary but not sufficient. He argues well the folly of wind power as even a partial solution, while enthusiastically supporting nuclear power. His clear presentation of the facts combined with his independence from the 'nuclear lobby' and from any green pressure group lend authority to his statements.
Lovelock also examines the prospects for various geo-engineering options though accepts that none are likely to be able to reverse global heating, and that none are risk-free. He identifies the burial of elemental carbon ('bio-char') as by far the most promising - but like all else, it will not happen unless there is a serious commitment and concerted effort. Similarly, the industrial synthesis of food and fuel from inorganic ingredients (mainly CO2 and water), using nuclear power as an energy source, would have added benefits of reducing our demand for agricultural land and taking CO2 out of the system.
This is a book not only to be read but to be acted upon. Although private individuals can and should do whatever they can, many actions can be taken only at governmental level. Business, driven by short-term profit motives, cannot be expected to do anything without appropriate carrot-and-stick measures. It is vital, therefore, that our decision-makers read, understand, and accept the obligation that is theirs to ensure a long term future for humankind as an important component of our living planet. Procrastination or lip-service are nothing but death sentences for humanity.