Monday, 20 October 2008

Lovelock on BBC4

Caught 'High Anxieties - the Mathematics of Chaos' on BBC4 last night, click here to see it on BBC iPlayer.
Essentially, this show explored our historical relationship to Economic and Environmental understanding in terms of 'predict and control' mathematics. We'd like to think we can predict how markets and our climate will work but in reality it takes the smallest flap of butterflies' wings and we're helpless to influence anything. It was late, I'm paraphrasing, badly.

The show featured an interview with James Lovelock who again argued the case for imminent doom very eloquently and with worrying certainty. We're not approaching a 'tipping point', we're on a downwards slide from which we cannot recover. Tipping point implies the possibility of 'tipping back', sliding towards doom does not. He's articulated these concerns before:

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do." (Guardian March 1st 2008).

So, what does this mean? I'd love to know what other scientists think about Lovelock's thinking. What is the scientfic consensus on tipping v sliding?

I'm inclined to follow the logic of Mark Lynas who as of August 8th didn't seem to sure when we'd reach a dangerous situation. In questioning the likely accuracy of the climate countdown calculator at he concludes "In reality, this is a matter of risk analysis: how much risk of destroying our planetary habitat are we prepared to bear in order to keep on burning fossil fuels?"

We talked about this in our office Monday meet and all agreed that sustainable development, regardless of whether we can or cannot tackle climate change, is still the way forward for society. If we want to try and tackle cliamte change, whilst planning for major change, whilst addressing inequalities and potentailly improving qulaity of life, then sustainable development makes sense. It would be nice to know what scientific context we're working in though!

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