In a profoundly pessimistic new assessment, published in today's Independent, Professor Lovelock suggests that efforts to counter global warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late.
The world and human society face disaster to a worse extent, and on a faster timescale, than almost anybody realises, he believes. He writes: "Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."
In making such a statement, far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist of comparable international standing, Professor Lovelock accepts he is going out on a limb. But as the man who conceived the first wholly new way of looking at life on Earth since Charles Darwin, he feels his own analysis of what is happening leaves him no choice.
He believes that it is the self-regulating mechanism of Gaia itself- increasingly accepted by other scientists worldwide, although they prefer to term it the Earth System - which, perversely, will ensure that the warming cannot be mastered.
T'his is because the system contains myriad feedback mechanisms which in the past have acted in concert to leave the Earth much cooler than it otherwise would be.Now,however they will come together to amplify the warming being caused by human activities such as transport and industry through huge emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (C02).
It means that the harmful consequences of human beings damaging the living planet's ancient regulatory system will be non-linear -in other words,likely to accelerate uncontrollably.
He terms this phenomenon "The Revenge of Gaia" and examines it in detail in a new book with that title, to be published next month.
The uniqueness of the Lovelock viewpoint is that it is holistic , rather than reductionist. Although he is a committed supporter of current research into climate change, especially at Britain's Hadley Centre, he is not looking at individual facets of how the climate behaves, as other scientists inevitably are. Rather,he is looking at how the whole control system of the Earth behaves when put under stress.
Professor Lovelock, who conceived the idea of Gaia in the 1970s while examining the possibility of life on Mars for Nasa in the US, has been warning of the dangers of climate change since major concerns about it first began nearly 20 years ago.
He was one of a select group of scientists who gave an initial briefing on global warming to Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet at 10 Downing Street in April 1989.
His concerns have increased steadily since then, as evidence of a warming climate has mounted. For example, he shared the alarm of many scientists at the news last September that the ice covering the Arctic Ocean is now melting so fast that in 2005 it reached a historic low point.
Two years ago he sparked a major controversy with an article in The Independent calling on environmentalists to drop their long-standing opposition to nuclear power, which does not produce the greenhouses gases of conventional power stations.
Global warming was proceeding so fast that only a major expansion of nuclear power could bring it under control, he said. Most of the Green movement roundly rejected his call, and does so still.
Now his concerns have reached a peak- and have a new emphasis. Rather than calling for further ways of countering climate change, he is calling on governments in Britain and elsewhere to begin large-scale preparations for surviving what he now sees as inevitable - in his own phrase today "a hell of a climate", likely to be in Europe up to 8C hotter than it is today.
In his book's concluding chapter, he writes: "What should a sensible European government be doing now? I think we have little option but to prepare for the worst, and assume that we have passed the threshold."
And in today's Independent he writes: "We will do our best to survive, but sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of CO2 emissions. The worst will happen.
He goes on: "We have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act, and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can." He believes that the world's governments should plan to secure energy and food supplies in the global hot house, and defences against the expected rise in sea levels. The scientist's vision of what human society may ultimately be reduced to through climate change is "a broken rabble led by brutal warlords."
Professor Lovelock draws attention to one aspect of the warming threat in particular, which is that the expected temperature rise is currently being held back artificially by a global aerosol a layer of dust in the atmosphere right around the planet's northern hemisphere - which is the product of the world's industry.
This shields us from some of the sun's radiation in a phenomena which is known as "global dimming" and is thought to be holding the global temperature down by several degrees.
But with a severe industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the
atmosphere in a very short time, and the globaitem perature could take a
sudden enormous leap upwards.
Written, not in electronic form,but "on durable paper with long-lasting print",it would contain the basic accumulated scientific knowledge of humanity much of it utterly taken for granted by us now,but originally won only after a hard struggle-such as our place in the solar system, or the fact that bacteria and viruses cause infectious diseases.
The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock is published by Penguin on 2 February, price £16.99
Global warming: the 'tipping point'
By Michael McCarthy
A crucial global warming "tipping point" for the Earth, highlighted only last week by the British Government, has already been passed, with devastating consequences.
Research commissioned by The Independent reveals that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has now crossed a threshold, set down by scientists from around the world at a conference in Britain last year, beyond which really dangerous climate change is likely to be unstoppable;
The implication is that some of global warming's worst predicted effects, from destruction of ecosystems to increased hunger and water shortages for billions of people, cannot now be avoided, whatever we do. It gives considerable force to the contention by the green guru Professor James Lovelock, put forward last month in The Independent, that climate change is now past the point of no return.
The danger point we are now firmly on course for is arise in global mean temperatures to 2 degrees above the level before the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
At the moment, global mean temperatures have risen to about 0.6 degrees above the pre-industrial era- and worrying signs of climate change, such as the rapid melting of the Arctic ice in summer; are already increasingly evident. But arise to 2 degrees would be far more serious.
By that point it is likely that the Greenland ice sheet will al ready have begun irreversible melting, threatening the world with a sea-level rise of several metres. Agricultural yields will have started to fall, not only in Africa but also in Europe, the US and Russia, putting up to 200 milllon more people at risk from hunger; and up to 2.8 billion additional people at risk of water shortages for both drinking and irrigation. The Government's conference on Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, held at the UK Met Office in Exeter a year ago, highlighted a clear threshold in the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which should notbe sur passed if the 2 degree point was to be avoided with "relatively high certainty".
This was for the concentration of CO2 and other gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, taken together in their global warming effect, to stay below 400ppm (parts per million) in CO2 terms - or in the jargon, the "equivalent concentration" of CO2 should remain below that level.
The warning was highlighted in the official report of the Exeter conference, published last week. However, an investigation by The Independent has established that the CO2 equivalent concentration, largely unnoticed by the scientific and political communities, has now risen beyond this threshold.
This number is not a familiar one even among climate researchers, and is not readily available. For example, when we put the question to a very senior climate scientist, he said: "I would think it's definitely over 400- probably about 420" So we asked one of the worlds leading experts on the effects of greenhouse gases on climate, Professor Keith Shine, head of the meteorology department at the University of Reading to calculate it precisely.Using the latest available figures (for 2004), his calculations show the equivalent concentration of CO2, taking in the effects of methane and nitrous oxide at 2004 levels,is now 425pp. This is made up of CO2 itself, at 379ppm; the global warnang effect of the methane in the atmosphere, equivalent to another 40ppm of CO2; and the effect of nitrous oxide, equivalent to another 6ppm of CO2.
The tipping point warned about last week by the Government is already behind us.
"The passing of this threshold is of the most enormous significance," said Tom Burke, a former government adviser on the green issues, now visiting professor at Imperial College London. "it means we have actually entered a new era - the era of dangerous climate change. We have passed the point where we can be confident of staying below the 2 degree rise set as the threshold for danger. What this tells us is that we have already reached the point where our children can no longer count on a safe climate'
The scientist who chaired the Exeter conference, Dennis Tirpak, head of the climate change unit of the OECD in Paris, was even more direct. He said: "This means we will hit 2 degrees [as mean temperatare rise]."
Professor Burke added: "We have very little time to act now Governments must stop talking and start spending. We already have the technology to allow us to meet our growing need for energy while keeping a stable climate. We must deploy it now .Doing so will cost less than the Iraq war so we know we can afford it.
The 400ppm threshold is based on a paper given at Exeter by Malte Meinhausen of the Swiss Federal institute of Technology; Dr Meinhausen reviewed a dozen studies of the probability of exceeding the 2 degrees threshold at different CO2 equivalent levels. Taken together they show that only by remaining above 400 is there a very high chance of not doing so.
Some scientists have been reluctant to talk about the overall global warming effect of all the greenhouses gases taken together, because there is another consideration - the fact that the "aerosol", or band of dust in the atmosphere from industrial pollution, actually reduces the warming.
As Professor Shine stresses, there is enormous uncertainty about the degree to which this is happening so making calculation of the overall warming effect problematic. However, as James Lovelock points out- and Professor Shine and other scientists accept - in the event of an industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, and then the effect of all the greenhouse gases taken together would suddenly be fully felt.
The Independent 16Jan,2006 &11 Feb,2006