Lovelock’s climate punt : part 1

{Updated: 05.07.12}

I’m reasonably sure at least some subscribers to this web site and blog are wondering about my opinion about James Lovelock’s ‘flip’ in his  position about abrupt climate change as represented in his recent interview with MSNBC.

Well, I do have an opinion, and will offer it here asap.  I’m still gathering data – or at least trying to – about what, exactly, his new position is.  Either he’s being quite vague about it or the author of the linked article is being vague  – which leaves me asking, “OK, so what does he mean,  exactly?”   Yet outside of that interview and several stories written about it, I’m finding nothing to clarify his position, especially not on his own web pages.

I’ll just say this for now, with more to come at a later time as my understanding increases:

  1. The way that he is handling this is a great annoyance to me; I think he’s being irresponsible to not offer more clarification, and his self-labeling as an “alarmist” annoys  me to no end.  I hold a view similar to his former opinion, but refuse to label myself (or allow myself to be labelled) ‘alarmist’, which I consider a pejorative term, especially when used by deniers and obfuscators.   A person shouting “Fire!” in a burning building is not an ‘alarmist’, nor is a person trying to help others understand global heating and abrupt climate change driven by it.   As a result, he has at least temporarily fallen out of my “very admired scientist” category into …. some other category that I shouldn’t name until I cool down a bit.
  2. Hypotheses and speculation is running rampant about his motivation for advancing his  new position, and unfortunately, not all believe it’s entirely grounded in science.  (I’ll list some of those in part 2.)
  3. Once again I am reminded that ‘argument from authority‘ is a logical fallacy: every argument must be evaluated on its own merit, regardless of who’s advancing it.  Lovelock is no exception.  Even though I think his Gaia theory and geophysiology (aka Earth system sciences) are brilliant, I’m going to seriously question his new stance on climate.   I’m open to the possibility that he’s right, but I need to first understand his reasoning, and why he seems to be missing some HUGE changes that are underway.
  4. However, to the extent that I  understand his new position, I’m finding that I agree more with his former position than the new one.  I was never 100% sold on every aspect of his former position as laid out in, say, his book Revenge of Gaia – I’m not as ‘dark’ in my prognosis as he is, and I explicitly disagreed with some of his ‘solutions’* – but I certainly cited his views a lot in my lectures and seminars, holding them out as one plausible  possibility in a range of possibilities, some better, some worse.  [* When I teach my advanced seminar about Gaia using that book, we only read the first 4 chapters on the theory itself, not the remaining chapters on ‘solutions’.  Even though I agreed with some of his arguments in those latter chapters – like him,  I’m not a fan of big wind farms for many of the same reasons – and could see the logic in others, I chose not to identify with his positions outside of Gaia theory, geophysiology and abrupt climate change.]
  5. With a group of current students, I have begun to re-evaluate my position on abrupt climate change with respect to his former position , and will continue to do so in summer and with the help of one or prominent, internationally-known researchers in abrupt climate change.  More on that another day.

More to come … please stay tuned ….

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2 Responses to Lovelock’s climate punt : part 1

  1. WitsEnd says:

    Hi Alder! Turns out we have a mutual friend, Ed Hummel, imagine that! I’ve never me him, but we are on an informal sort of internet chat circle.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your thoughts about Lovelock. Some of us just call it “going emeritus”. It is the desire of an older person to die in peace, not wracked with guilt.

  2. Alder Stone says:

    Great to ‘see’ you here, Wits. Ed recently told me that you’d linked something from here into your blog [which, dear readers, is accessible by clicking “WitsEnd” above; please choose option “open in a new tab” for easy access after you are finished reading here]. I went over there and surfed around a bit, but not long enough: extremely busy here trying to juggle about 4 balls – but will go back soon and read; looks very interesting. I should have much more time in summer.

    Speaking of Ed, we’ll be hanging out some this summer up in his region developing a new co-taught seminar synthesizing basic principles of abrupt climate change (ACC) and Earth system sciences (my parts) with meteorology (his parts) with an application of both to our bioregion in terms of climate patterns and ecological changes. I’m really looking forward to that.

    Add that we (I’m delighted to say) are developing a new relationship with a major climate change institute that specializes in (helped discover) ACC.

    Oh, yeah. This should be a lot of fun. 🙂