The Final Warning

Merely by existing, people and their dependent animals are responsible for more than ten times the greenhouse gas emissions of all the airline travel in the world.

We do not seem to have the slightest understanding of the seriousness of our plight. Instead, before our thoughts were diverted by the global financial collapse, we seemed lost in an endless round of celebration and congratulation. It was good to recognize the huge efforts of the IPCC with the Nobel Peace Prize and to have a brave ten thousand people make the long journey to Bali as a salutation, but because they failed to see the Earth as alive and responsive they ignored at our peril the extent of its disapproval of all we do. As we hold our meetings and talk of stewardship, Gaia still moves step by step toward the hot state, one that will allow her to continue as the regulator, but where few of us will be alive to meet and talk. Perhaps we were celebrating because the once rather worrying voice of the IPCC now spoke comfortably of consensus and endorsed those mysterious concepts of sustainability and energy that renewed itself. We even thought that this way somehow we could save the planet and grow richer as well, a more pleasing outcome than the uncomfortable truth.

Just think, as I write this in 2008, more than one thousand of the world’s best climate scientists have worked for seventeen years to forecast future climates and have failed to predict the climate of today. I have little confidence in the smooth, rising curve of temperature that modelers predict for the next ninety years. The Earth’s history and simple climate models based on the notion of a live and responsive Earth suggest that sudden change and surprise are more likely. My pessimism is shared by other scientists and openly by the distinguished climate scientist James Hansen, who finds as I do that the evidence now coming from the Earth, together with the knowledge of its history, is gravely disturbing. Most of all I am pessimistic because business and governments both appear to be accepting uncritically a belief that climate change is easily and profitably reversible.

– James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning