Friday, March 31, 2006

Lovelock and Fatalism

James Lovelock crops up again on the today programme. Our efforts against global warming are puny, and we should concentrate on sea defences and food and energy security. Environmental organisations worry that we will shift from scepticism to despair without passing through a stage of determination. (I think this has largely already happened - environmentalists tend to think that people haven't heard them because behaviour hasn't changed much.)

Well of course it is inevitable that there will be some warming and some rise in sea levels. The question isn't and never was whether global warming happens or can we prevent it. The question is how much will there be. And the answer still depends, as it always did, largely on how much carbon dioxide is emitted.

Tens of centimetres of sea level rise may be inevitable. If we don't seek to change our energy strategies, then metres of rise will be likely. Tens of centimetres will be expensive in sea defences for the developed world, and will displace many people in the developing world. Metres of rise: multiply all those numbers up.

Some studies argue that rises of up to 2 degrees will improve agricultural output in temperate regions, reducing it in the tropics. Further rises will reduce it in both zones. So again the question is small increases or big ones.

Energy security and food security are always worth considering anyway. Sea levels don't rise so fast that we should expect to be caught out with poor sea defences, so long as we are willing to spend the money when it is clearly needed. And how do we enhance energy security? What sort of generation doesn't depend on fuel imports? Hands up anybody who can guess. That's right, renewables. Exactly what Lovelock is sneezing at.

Global warming is happening and is going to happen. One could equally say that crime happens and is going to happen. But fatalism does not lead us to disband the police. The potential for renewables is immense - the amount of power going untapped each year dwarfs our total coal, oil and uranium reserves. It is most likely we will end up using renewables a great deal in the future whatever strategy we follow. The question is how much to bring forward the investment to reduce global warming, and to give the third world more options for its development.

Tag: Global Warming

1 comment:

James said...

I was meaning to respond to Lovelock's interview myself when I had the time. Apart from anything else, I think Lovelock has made a tactical error with his "we're all doomed" schtick. If he wants people to take him seriously about, eg. nuclear power, he needs to make a case that it would actually achieve anything.

The real victims of global warming, at least for the next century, will be people in low lying developing regions such as Bangladesh, not rich westerners.