A Question for James Lovelock on His Predictions of Global Depopulation and the Desertification of Europe: What is Your Evidence That This is Coming?

James Lovelock is 88 and turning into an apocalyptic crank. In a recent interview with Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian, he makes some rather extreme predictions supported by no evidence whatsoever:

His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. […]

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem – the bigger challenge will be food. “Maybe they’ll synthesise food. I don’t know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco’s, in the form of Quorn. It’s not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it.” But he fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. “But this is the real thing.” […]

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

I, of course, accept global warming, and recognize that rising sea levels will be a serious problem by the end of this century, but forgive me if I remain unconvinced by Lovelock’s predictions of global depopulation and the desertification of Europe. Are there others saying this, and if so why do they say it, and what are their scientific credentials? If they have credentials, are they respected among their peers? What are their colleagues saying of their views? Show me the evidence.

Some of my annoyance here is with the reporter, Decca Aitkenhead. Is this what one learns in journalism school, to be a cipher channeling uncritically the words of those with notoriety? To not ask for evidence and not report what experts might have to say in response to extreme claims?

In future, come on Decca. Show readers not just the claims, but the evidence.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to A Question for James Lovelock on His Predictions of Global Depopulation and the Desertification of Europe: What is Your Evidence That This is Coming?

  1. Mikels Skele says:

    As an archaeologist, I have never seen a single article written by a journalist in the regular press about archaeology which did not contain at least one major error; most have seriously misrepresented what archaeologists have said as well. This experience on a subject of which I have some expertise has made me very skeptical of anything I read in the general press. As if this situation weren’t bad enough, it now seems to be fashionable to present reasonable and unreasonable ideas side by side, unfiltered, as if this confers impartiality. Multiply all this by the amplification effect of social media, and you have the mess we’re in today.

  2. Conor says:

    The ‘recent interview’ with James Lovelock is from 2008 (check the link you’ve added above) and is a fair representation of the views expressed in Lovelock’s 2006 book “The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back – and How We Can Still Save Humanity ”.
    One of the central points of your post is a criticism Decca Aitkenhead’s journalistic work. In light of this, I would have expected you to take more care with basic fact checking, but it’s an easy mistake to make.
    The reason this interview resurfaced recently is because it appeared on the ‘Most viewed’ section of the Guardian’s website. Why this happened I can’t be sure, but my guess is that it is linked to Britain and Ireland experiencing an unprecedented series of winter storms which flooded thousands of homes, cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes, destroyed major transport links and infrastructure and caused both governments to reassess current predictions concerning the impacts of climate change. Anyway, quite an achievement for a six-year-old interview to resurface in this way, which might give you pause to consider the true value of Aitkenhead’s interview and on the quality of the views it gave voice to.
    On your criticism that Decca Aitkenhead is acting as a ‘cipher’ for James Lovelock’s views, I feel this is unfair, as that is one of the key parts of a journalist’s job. That is the function of an interview. In an interview the subject is allowed space to set out their views, especially if the subject is one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, and the journalist’s role is to record those views faithfully and represent them to the newspaper’s readership in a coherent and succinct way. Sometimes these views are challenged within the interview, sometimes not. I would not necessarily expect ‘balance’ to come within the paragraphs of an interview, but rather in the round, from other articles published in the same newspaper, over time. A newspaper article is not a book, and should not be judged in isolation, but should rather be seen as a small brick in a broader structure of opinion, facts, criticism and conjecture, all of which go to makeup the editorial position of the newspaper. For us to have an insight into Aitkenhead’s views on this area would require a different form of article, with different style guidelines, often called an opinion piece.
    I would encourage you to find the time to read Lovelock’s more recent books on climate change and would be interested in reading a more considered criticism of his stance. I recently read his 2009 book “The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning: Enjoy It While You Can” and it forced me to re-examine many of the views I hold in areas of climate change, current government policy, the IPCC, the broader environmental movement and nuclear power. To put it another way, I can’t think of another writer who expresses respect both for the views of climate change-denier Nigel Lawson and the scientists who contribute to the IPCC, and to some extent I’m still processing and evaluating many of his arguments. But this is in part Lovelock’s value – his views have often been ahead of his time and it would be rash to dismiss them out of hand.

  3. Conor says:

    Also, it would appear James Lovelock is now aged 94. That looks like a glaring error in the first line of your post. Do you not check anything? The more time I spend reading blogs like this, the more I come to respect the value of sub-editors and the journalistic processes followed in the better publications.

  4. Conor says:

    Apologies, that was unnecessarily rude of me.

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