The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00415: Doom is Nigh

Key concepts
paranoia, handwringing fear, catastrophe, climate change, James Lovelock, nuclear power, Gwynne Dyer
Attention Conservation Notice:
Spooky, disconcerting, contrarian, and goes on and on and on.

Kill Big Mike with nasty antibiotics, get asthma
for your pains.

Fry, dinosaurs! FRY!!,1282,63613,00.html

The increasingly flinchy and gunshy US State Department. Maybe they should wake up and realize that the Defense Department, PNAC and OSP want to kill them, too.

Why are people suddenly getting rickets and other arcane vitamin-D deficiency health weirdness? Could that have something to do with global dimming? Hey, am I just blue-skying it here?

Even the MOON is dimming, for heaven's sake! Good lord, what next?

Gee, uh, why ever would the Bush Administration want to stubbornly deny climate change?,6903,1222706,00.html
"A classic example is that of West Virginia coal baron James Harless, a Pioneer in 2000 and 2004, therefore contributing at least $200,000 to the Bush campaign. He saw his grandson appointed to a Department of Energy team looking at drawing up new policies. The Bush administration then reversed a campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that bedevil the coal industry and eased environmental restrictions on opencast mining." Yeah, yeah, thanks for the heads-up there – press of Britain!

(((You know what? It's been six years since we started the Viridian Movement in 1998, and our basic issues are finally becoming loud, repeated, unbearably urgent, everyday, headline-grabbing issues.

(((Much more of this, and it's going to be time for me to declare victory and move along to some less commonplace form of technosocial endeavor. I don't like to repeat the publicly obvious – not my style. But it's not like the Greenhouse problem is ever going away in my lifetime... So hey, maybe they'll draft me and MAKE me do this!)))


'Only nuclear power can now halt global warming'

'The ice is melting much faster than we thought'

Guru who tuned into Gaia was one of the first to warn of climate threat

James Lovelock: "Nuclear power is the only green solution

"We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger

24 May 2004

"Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, was far-sighted to say that global warming is a more serious threat than terrorism. He may even have underestimated, because, since he spoke, new evidence of climate change suggests it could be even more serious, and the greatest danger that civilisation has faced so far. (((Well, yeah, if you don't count nukes.)))

"Most of us are aware of some degree of warming; winters are warmer and spring comes earlier. But in the Arctic, warming is more than twice as great as here in Europe and in summertime, torrents of melt water now plunge from Greenland's kilometre-high glaciers. The complete dissolution of Greenland's icy mountains will take time, but by then the sea will have risen seven metres, enough to make uninhabitable all of the low lying coastal cities of the world, including London, Venice, Calcutta, New York and Tokyo. Even a two metre rise is enough to put most of southern Florida under water. (((And drown their nukes, too!)))

"The floating ice of the Arctic Ocean is even more vulnerable to warming; in 30 years, its white reflecting ice, the area of the US, may become dark sea that absorbs the warmth of summer sunlight, and further hastens the end of the Greenland ice. The North Pole, goal of so many explorers, will then be no more than a point on the ocean surface.

"Not only the Arctic is changing; climatologists warn a four-degree rise in temperature is enough to eliminate the vast Amazon forests in a catastrophe for their people, their biodiversity, and for the world, which would lose one of its great natural air conditioners.

"The scientists who form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2001 that global temperature would rise between two and six degrees Celsius by 2100. Their grim forecast was made perceptible by last summer's excessive heat; and according to Swiss meteorologists, the Europe-wide hot spell that killed over 20,000 was wholly different from any previous heat wave. The odds against it being a mere deviation from the norm were 300,000 to one. It was a warning of worse to come. (((Why is it still necessary for Dr Lovelock to get up to a long running start like this?)))

"What makes global warming so serious and so urgent is that the great Earth system, Gaia, is trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback. Extra heat from any source, whether from greenhouse gases, the disappearance of Arctic ice or the Amazon forest, is amplified, and its effects are more than additive. It is almost as if we had lit a fire to keep warm, and failed to notice, as we piled on fuel, that the fire was out of control and the furniture had ignited. When that happens, little time is left to put out the fire before it consumes the house. Global warming, like a fire, is accelerating and almost no time is left to act. (((So, having demonstrated our keen sense of responsibility in setting our own house afire, it's time to build some nuclear reactors.)))

"So what should we do? We can just continue to enjoy a warmer 21st century while it lasts, and make cosmetic attempts, such as the Kyoto Treaty, to hide the political embarrassment of global warming, and this is what I fear will happen in much of the world. When, in the 18th century, only one billion people lived on Earth, their impact was small enough for it not to matter what energy source they used. (((Well, it mattered if you died in an 18th century coal mine.)))

"But with six billion, and growing, few options remain; we can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years; the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years. Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for civilisation.

(((You know, I sense the makings of a really good, sensible deal here. Shut off the carbon. Destroy the coal companies and oil companies. Use nukes for fifty years while developing sustainable energy. Then shut off the nukes. Become fully sustainable. Legislate that all, worldwide, with global diplomacy. Leave the oil and coal in the ground. Let Al Qaeda see what the hell they get out of life when their Holy Lands are abandoned to zealots and they have no more actual revenue (other than the usual enslaved women, guns and heroin). Dedicate tremendous effort toward climate amelioration and prevention of Greenhouse changes. And then...

(((Oh wait a minute, what the heck am I saying? Of course we're going to burn all the carbon and then also add a plague of nukes to a world spinning out of political and military control.)))

"Worse still, if we burn crops grown for fuel this could hasten our decline. Agriculture already uses too much of the land needed by the Earth to regulate its climate and chemistry. A car consumes 10 to 30 times as much carbon as its driver; imagine the extra farmland required to feed the appetite of cars. (((This has the raw feeling of back-of-the-napkin calculation here.)))

"By all means, let us use the small input from renewables sensibly, but only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy. True, burning natural gas instead of coal or oil releases only half as much carbon dioxide, but unburnt gas is 25 times as potent a greenhouse agent as is carbon dioxide. Even a small leakage would neutralise the advantage of gas. (((As opposed to the small leakages of nuclear power, which are a kind of health tonic.)))

"The prospects are grim, and even if we act successfully in amelioration, there will still be hard times, as in war, that will stretch our grandchildren to the limit. We are tough and it would take more than the climate catastrophe to eliminate all breeding pairs of humans; what is at risk is civilisation. As individual animals we are not so special, and in some ways are like a planetary disease, but through civilisation we redeem ourselves and become a precious asset for the Earth; not least because through our eyes the Earth has seen herself in all her glory. (((Oh, come on, James! Isn't it bad enough that we have to swallow nukes without this cornball Gaian burst of mystic scientism?)))

"There is a chance we may be saved by an unexpected event such as a series of volcanic eruptions severe enough to block out sunlight and so cool the Earth. (((How about "global dimming"? Flavor o' the month!))) But only losers would bet their lives on such poor odds. (((As opposed to betting our lives on nukes; cuddly objects which have never threatened human survival before.))) Whatever doubts there are about future climates, there are no doubts that greenhouse gases and temperatures both are rising.

"We have stayed in ignorance for many reasons; important among them is the denial of climate change in the US where governments have failed to give their climate scientists the support they needed. (((Yep! And you know what else? We're swarming with warheads!))) The Green lobbies, which should have given priority to global warming, seem more concerned about threats to people than with threats to the Earth, not noticing that we are part of the Earth and wholly dependent upon its well being. (((Hey man, macrobiotic diet freaks have to vote somewhere.))) It may take a disaster worse than last summer's European deaths to wake us up. (((Okay – how about a massive terrorist oil spike? Got one in the wings, just waitin'!)))

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. (((No it isn't.))) These fears are unjustified, (((oh no they're not))) and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. (((If you don't count the nuclear energy released over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is.))) We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. (((Look, we've been breathing oxygen since the origin of our species, and a third of us have not historically died of cancer.)))

"If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.

"I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy. (((Okay – let's say your argument has convinced me. So get me a written quid pro quo that actually cuts carbon emissions way past Kyoto limits, and I'll risk the Chernobyls. Do you have the clout to give us one of those – or would you rather just pester hippies, Hollywood, and reporters?)))

"Even if they were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear – the one safe, available, energy source – now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."

The writer is an independent scientist and the creator of the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a self- regulating organism. 25 May 2004 22:26

(((Well, at least he's sincere, poor old guy. Meantime, the always-interesting Gwynne Dyer weighs in.)))

GBN Global Perspectives

–Gwynne Dyer

James Lovelock, Nuclear Power and Global Warming

"Unless we stop now, we will really doom the lives of our descendants. If we just go on for another 40 or 50 years faffing around, they'll have no chance at all, it'll be back to the Stone Age. There'll be people around still. But civilisation will go."

James Lovelock, 'The Independent', 24 May

When James Lovelock calls for a massive expansion in nuclear power generation to ward off the worst effects of climate change, as he did in a front-page article in 'The Independent' this week, you have to pay attention.

(((Unless you're an oil company executive. Or a member of the Bush Administration. But I repeat myself.)))

The future may view him as the most important scientist of the twentieth century, and he is revered by the Green movement, which hates nuclear energy. But now he writes: "Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for civilisation....I am a Green, and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy."

Lovelock is an independent scientist who grew wealthy by inventing equipment to measure the presence of CFCs, the chemicals used in spray cans and refrigerators that were destroying the ozone layer before they were banned. But his real claim to fame, on a par with Darwin's and Galileo's, was his insight that the Earth is a living system.

He often regrets having named that system 'Gaia' (after the Greek goddess of the Earth), because the Green movement and various New Agers started using it as a beautiful metaphor, and delayed its acceptance as a valid scientific observation for several decades. But it is finally being accepted by the scientific community worldwide (with a name change to Earth System Science to placate the guardians of academic orthodoxy): last December the scientific journal 'Nature' gave Lovelock two pages to summarise recent developments in the field. (((I wonder if he burbled anything about us humans being the "eyes" through which Gaia "has seen herself in all her glory.")))

Lovelock has always been worried about radical climate change, because the essence of the Gaia hypothesis is that the current composition of the Earth's air and seas – the global temperature regime, the salinity of the oceans, even the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere – has been shaped over the eons by the activity of living things. Our planet would be radically different, he argues, if living things did not actively maintain the status quo that is so hospitable to life. (((Maybe global dimming is really – beneficent Gaian space plankton! Wow!)))

The concept of Gaia is no more mystical than the notion that triple-canopy tropical jungles create a local micro-climate under their leafy ceiling. (((So that the marmosets can see the great mahoganies in all their glory.)))The emerging 'earth system science' just studies the hugely more complex system of biological interactions and feedbacks, involving millions of species, that has evolved over several billion years to optimise conditions on Earth for living things. (((Yeah, and you know what they need now? Lotsa plutonium!)))But this system that can lurch into massive change if some major input (like the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) is changed.

Recent evidence, including last summer's unprecedented heat wave in Europe and new data on the speed that the Greenland ice cap is melting, has persuaded Lovelock that global warming is now moving far faster than most studies anticipated, and will have calamitous effects on key support systems of human civilisation like food production in decades rather than centuries. He doesn't believe that current efforts to reduce the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through the Kyoto accord (which has still to be ratified, in any case) and the encouragement of power generation by wind, wave and solar power can possibly cut carbon emissions enough in time.

(((How about the relatively simple solution of seven or eight billion of us starving to death? Or how about a few massive heat-wave-boosted lethal epidemics? That ought to put a swift kibosh on energy demand.)))

"'I think we should think of ourselves as a bit like we were in 1938,' he said. (He's 84, so he remembers.) 'There was a war looming, and everybody knew it, but nobody really knew what the hell to do about it.' (((So they had an atomic war. Hey, great precedent!)))

"The Kyoto protocol, he said, is 'the perfect analogy for the Munich agreement,' because it would solve nothing: the cuts it mandates in greenhouse gases are tiny, while it lets politicians look like they are doing something.'And the Greens' attachment to renewable energy is 'well-intentioned, but misguided, like the left's attachment to disarmament in 1938.' (((Maybe they should have gone gung-ho for nuclear power in 1938, in which case, Hitler would have had the Bomb.)))

"So the man who was among the first to warn of climate change says that there should be a massive expansion of nuclear power, which produces hardly any carbon, to deal with the inevitable growth of demand for power without toppling the world into climate change so abrupt and extreme that it would cause a massive human die-off. The problems of radioactive waste and the danger of nuclear accidents are minuscule by comparison, and there is no third alternative. (((Well, the third alternative is a wrecked industrial economy and a massive human die-off, but it's a little hard to sit down and dash out a cheery editorial on that subject.)))

Only France and Japan among the developed countries get most of their electrical power from nuclear energy. No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States or Britain for over twenty years: the 'fear factor' linked to the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl killed the market dead. (((Also the cost, and the lack of any place to dump the garbage.)))But those were local disasters that caused limited local damage, not massive and irreversible changes for the worse in the whole planetary environment, and with better design and more attention to safety they might have been avoided. (((And, with a slightly tenser international situation, we might have been having Global Warming plus Nuclear Winter!)))

"Would we be on the brink of massive climate change now if the nuclear power industry had continued to replace fossil-fuel-burning plants at the rate we expected in the late 1950s and early 1960s? Almost certainly not. We'd have a much smaller problem, and more time to deal with it. James Lovelock has done us all a favour: this debate is long overdue. (((I question whether we're on the "brink" of anything – climate change is happening. Furthermore, if we'd built swarms of nukes in the 50s and somehow avoided Armageddon, gas would be so cheap that the roads would swarm with massive Recreational Vehicles instead of SUVs.)))

(((This nuclear nostalgia is all well and good, but what we need is genuine industrial policy agreed on by the powers-that be. A new Kyoto, genuine international agreement with coherent steps to deal with the menace. Otherwise we just glow in the dark as we die of the heat, and what's the point of that?)))

Gwynne Dyer, Ph.D., is a London-based independent journalist and GBN Network member whose articles are published in 45 countries.For more on Gwynne Dyer, please read his GBN interview

The Global Perspectives series is intended to challenge and provoke the thinking of GBN members. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of GBN or its members. We welcome suggestions of other writers and columnists whose ideas we might share.

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