We All Are Destroying The Earth


Covid-19 may well have been one attempt by the Earth to protect itself. Gaia will try harder next time with something even nastier


‘I am not hopeful of a positive outcome at Cop26, knowing who is participating. I was not invited to lớn Glasgow, though that is hardly a surprise.’ Photograph: Magdalena Bujak/Alamy
‘I am not hopeful of a positive outcome at Cop26, knowing who is participating. I was not invited lớn Glasgow, though that is hardly a surprise.’ Photograph: Magdalena Bujak/Alamy
I don’t know if it is too late for humanity to lớn avert a climate catastrophe, but I am sure there is no chance if we continue to treat global heating & the destruction of nature as separate problems.

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That is the wrongheaded approach of the United Nations, which is about to lớn stage one big global conference for the climate in Glasgow, having just finished a different big global conference for biodiversity in Kunming.

This division is as much of a mistake as the error made by universities when they teach chemistry in a different class from biology and physics. It is impossible to understand these subjects in isolation because they are interconnected. The same is true of living organisms that greatly influence the global environment. The composition of the Earth’s atmosphere và the temperature of the surface is actively maintained and regulated by the biosphere, by life, by what the ancient Greeks used to gọi Gaia.

Almost 60 years ago, I suggested our planet self-regulated lượt thích a living organism. I called this the Gaia theory, and was later joined by biologist Lynn Margulis, who also espoused this idea. Both of us were roundly criticised by scientists in academia. I was an outsider, an independent scientist, và the mainstream view then was the neo-Darwinist one that life adapts to lớn the environment, not that the relationship also works in the other direction, as we argued. In the years since, we have seen just how much life – especially human life – can affect the environment. Two genocidal acts – suffocation by greenhouse gases and the clearance of the rainforests – have caused changes on a scale not seen in millions of years.

Because subjects lượt thích astronomy, geology, & meteorology are taught separately in schools và universities, few people are aware of the natural forces affecting the Earth’s surface temperature.

For billions of years the Earth’s surface temperature has been determined mainly by the radiant heat coming from the sun. This energy increased over time because it is the nature of stars lượt thích the sun lớn increase their heat đầu ra as they grow older. But temperatures on Earth remained relatively stable thanks lớn Gaia: forests, oceans & other elements in the the Earth’s regulating system, which kept the surface temperature fairly constant and near optimal for life.

The global warming that concerns all of us, and which will be discussed this week in Glasgow, includes a great deal of extra heating that comes as a consequence of extracting & burning fossil fuels since about the middle of the 19th century. That releases methane, carbon dioxide và other gases into the atmosphere. They absorb radiant heat and stop it escaping from Earth. This is what causes global warming.

The amount of global warming depends hugely on the properties of water. When cold ice forms, much of it is white snow. This reflects the sunlight back to space và is cooling. But when it is warm, the water vapour in the air is a powerful greenhouse gas that makes it warmer still.

Much of the confusion over global heating comes about because of the huge quantities of heat needed to lớn change the state of water. Few are aware that lớn melt a gram of ice takes 80 calories, enough heat to raise the temperature of 1ml of water lớn 80C. Try an ice cube in your boiling hot tea.

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Then imagine how much heat was needed khổng lồ melt large areas of the polar ice cap during the recent summer & how much hotter the world would have been if the ice had not been there. No wonder there is confusion about whether there is global heating or not.

Warnings that once seemed lượt thích the doom scenarios of science fiction are now coming to lớn pass. We are entering into a heat age in which the temperature và sea levels will be rising decade by decade until the world becomes unrecognisable. We could also be in for more surprises. Nature is non-linear and unpredictable, never more than at a time of transition.

Lowering these risks và adapting to those we can no longer avoid will require a mobilisation of resources on the scale of a war economy. We have no choice but lớn reduce the burning of fossil fuels or face even worse consequences.

But we should also not become over-reliant on renewable power, which will leave us with an energy gap. We need to lớn build more nuclear nguồn stations khổng lồ overcome that, though the greens will first have khổng lồ get over their overblown fears of radiation.

The dangers are nowhere near as bad as they are often painted. I’ve travelled millions of miles by air, và all that time I have been exposed khổng lồ levels of radiation that are ten times as great as at ground level. The dangers are exaggerated.

We also need khổng lồ address the problem of overpopulation và to urgently halt the destruction of tropical forests. Most of all, we need lớn look at the world in a holistic way.

I am not hopeful of a positive outcome at Cop26, knowing who is participating. I was not invited khổng lồ Glasgow, though that is hardly a surprise. As well as being 102 years old, I am an independent scientist, và the university academics have never been comfortable with that.

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But my fellow humans must learn khổng lồ live in partnership with the Earth, otherwise the rest of creation will, as part of Gaia, unconsciously move the Earth khổng lồ a new state in which humans may no longer be welcome. The virus, Covid-19, may well have been one negative feedback. Gaia will try harder next time with something even nastier.

James Lovelock is the originator of Gaia theory & the author, most recently, of Novascene. This op-ed was told lớn Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment editor