Sunday, July 30, 2006

Revenge of Gaia

Final thoughts on Lovelock's book (so's I can take it back to the library).

Overall I think he's stretching the Gaia metaphor a bit too far, with the now-elderly goddess getting mightily displeased with us over our nastiness to her and seeking revenge. I think a better one would be a mechanical one, a device driven by a thermostat that we've gone and f**ked up by running it too hot. A device for which we're only just starting to write the user's manual, way too late. Moreover a device which benefits humanity unequally, where those reaping the lion's share of the rewards refuse to believe either that the device exists, or in our abuse of it.

I'm unsure of his conclusions; he's far more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, but these are areas in which there are probably as many opinions as there are experts. For example, he reckons wind farms are next to useless, driven (business-wise) purely by the profits obtainable by the government's skewing of the market. Try to check on the generation figures and you'll find a huge variance with the pros- and the antis- accusing each other of misinterpretation. I myself reckon nimbyism is more at the heart of the anti-wind movement and I'm willing to do them a deal; I live near the M6 - you can have no wind farms if I can dig that sodding nuisance up. :)
Lovelock's been an advocate of fission power for some while. Again, I feel very sceptical towards it. While it appears to be rather less dangerous than previously thought (Chernobyl has only killed 58 people other than those in the station itself or involved in making it safe(ish) iirc), there are other considerations which he didn't touch on. Firstly, you have to have other forms of generation as a backup as if you stop generating you need an external power source for the cooling systems. An example of this was with the USA's big blackout a couple of years ago where as the grid experienced failure it was exacerbated by having to shut down the nuke plants. Secondly, because of security issues, much of the information on the industry's hidden. How much technetium's pumped into the Irish Sea? How many accidents have there been this year? The 1952 Windscale accident remained covered up for years. Thirdly, if the market for wind energy's skewed, it's nothing compared to nuclear; heavily subsidised, a precept added to electricity bills, and probably the new generation even more so.
Very nice if fusion power can be made to work, but again, it's at best a couple of decades away and there are no guarantees; remember Tony Benn's claim of "electricity too cheap to meter" for fission?

Is the environment already broken? Don't know but a report I saw elsewhere reckons we're now suffering the results of the carbon pumped out in the 60s and we're doing far more now. So if it ain't broken, it's much more likely it will be in 40 years time.

The calamity he envisages is a very much reduced human population clinging on in a warlord society; a new Dark Ages and one that'll take much longer to go away. The environment does take carbon dioxide out the atmosphere but at a very, very slow rate. He hopes for something similar to monastic communities who'll preserve our current knowledge until we regain a suitable environment to flourish, though it gives rise to the vexed question of how best to preserve it - if we're talking books, there'll need to be a hell of a lot of them, and as good a medium as it is, paper doesn't last forever. Chisel them into stone tablets? :)

To be sure, a depressing scenario, but I find our current lack of belief or will to tackle global warming even more so. The US is only now, grudgingly, coming to admit the problem exists and while a few cities are beginning to do a little about it, nationally it's way off doing anything. Meantime, China and India seem determined to emulate the west's mistakes. Can anything be more foolish than the Chinese government's denigration of people cycling and urging them to get cars?
It's one area at least where the UK is ahead of the game, but if a party offered to remove taxation from petrol they'd win by a landslide. The message just isn't getting over.

Scary graph for those who claim the climatologists don't know what they're talking about:
climate change graph


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