Morning Report is full of surprises. Last week it was Sean Plunket extemporising a ruthless skewering of Winston Peters, this week it’s Sean completely missing the point in an interview with James Lovelock (stream, podcast – 8:20am). The programme apparently noticed that Lovelock doesn’t think much of emissions trading as an answer to climate change, and decided to let him air his views. What role should NZ play in addressing the problem, Plunket asked?:
I think the role of New Zealand […] is to be a lifeboat. The world may get almost intolerable during the coming century.
Sean however is on-topic with the big emitters’ view of the ETS, keen to emphasise the “billions of dollars” the scheme will cost, but Loveock’s main point seems to whizz over his head. The man who thought up the concept of Gaia is saying that it’s too late to do anything to stop catastrophic change and that’s why an ETS of any kind is a waste of time. I was somewhat surprised to find that the NZ C”S”C have had a sudden rush of blood to the head and think that Lovelock’s interview somehow supports their position, linking approvingly to the interview – as have some fellow travellers.
Just in case there’s any confusion, read and inwardly digest this Guardian extract from a recent piece by Lovelock in a special edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A devoted to geoengineering (all articles available free). Lovelock doesn’t mince his words:
Whatever we do is likely to lead to death on a scale that makes all previous wars, famines and disasters small. To continue business as usual will probably kill most of us during the century. Is there any reason to believe that fully implementing Bali, with sustainable development and the full use of renewable energy, would kill less? We have to consider seriously that as with nineteenth century medicine, the best option is often kind words and pain killers but otherwise do nothing and let Nature take its course.
The usual response to such bitter realism is: then there is no hope for us, and we can do nothing to avoid our plight. This is far from true. We can adapt to climate change and this will allow us to make the best use of the refuge areas of the world that escape the worst heat and drought. We have to marshal our resources soon and if a safe form of geoengineering buys us a little time then we must use it.
Parts of the world such as oceanic islands, the Arctic basin and oases on the continents will still be habitable in a hot world. We need to regard them as lifeboats and see that there are sufficient sources of food and energy to sustain us as a species. Physicians have the Hippocratic Oath; perhaps we need something similar for our practice of planetary medicine.
Lovelock describes himself as a “geophysiologist” in the title of the full article. Nice job description. From a New Zealand perspective, you might want to ponder how we respond when the world starts trying to get into our lifeboat – and how long it might be before it starts to happen. Pity Sean didn’t think to ask…