Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Climate Criminality': Australia OKs Biggest Coal Mine

In a decision criticized as "climate criminality," Australia's federal government announced Monday that it has given the OK to the country's biggest coal mine.

The announcement comes less than three months after the state of Queensland gave its approval to the project.

"With this decision," wrote Ben Pearson, head of programs for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, "the political system failed to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the global climate and our national interest."

"Off the back of repealing effective action on climate change," stated Australian Greens environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters, referring to the scrapping of the carbon tax, "the Abbott Government has ticked off on a proposal for Australia’s biggest coal mine to cook the planet and turn our Reef into a super highway for coal ships."

Adani Mining expects its Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin to produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year, most of which will be sent to India. A rail line will be created from the mine to a new coal port terminal, an expansion which means up to 3 million meters of dredging waste will be dumped in the area of the World Heritage-listed Reef.

UNESCO "noted with concern" (pdf) in April the prospect of additional dredging that would negatively impact the Reef and warned that the site could be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The approval for the Carmichael project came from Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt with "36 strict conditions"—conditions that did nothing to allay the environmental fears raised by critics.

Felicity Wishart, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, stated that the conditions would be "laughable, if they weren’t so serious."

Wishart also accused the Queensland and federal government of "watering down environmental protections and fast-tracking approvals for new ports and LNG plants on the Great Barrier Reef."

"The Federal government has fast-tracked industrialization along the Reef because it is too close to the mining industry," she stated.

Pearson also admonished the close ties, saying in a statement, "The Federal Environment Minister has laid out the red carpet for a coal company with a shocking track record to dig up the outback, dump on the Great Barrier Reef and fuel climate change."

Amongst Greenpeace's list of why the project shouldn't go ahead is that

[t]he mine would steal precious water. The mine requires 12 gigaliters (12 billion liters) of water each year from local rivers and underground aquifers. That’s enough drinking water for every Queenslander for three years. Even ten kilometers away, water tables are expected to drop by over one meter.

In addition to the dangers of dredging up the sea-bed, the list adds:

The burning of coal from Carmichael mine would produce four times the fossil fuel emissions of New Zealand. It is a catastrophe for the climate.

"History will look back on the Abbott Government’s decision today as an act of climate criminality," Waters stated. More

 

Greenpeace Australia Pacific created this infographic to highlight what the group sees as risks the Carmichael mine poses:

 

 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Giant Global “Chimney” Could Alter Climate Change

Hundreds of years after humans mastered the art of chimney venting so they could heat their houses, scientists have undertaken a major research project to better understand how Earth’s atmosphere uses it’s very own version of a chimney.

More than 40 researchers recently visited a sparsely populated part of the western tropical Pacific Ocean—near the island of Guam—known as the "global chimney." The area boasts the world’s warmest ocean temperatures and vents massive volumes of warm gases from the surface high into the atmosphere, which may shape global climate and air chemistry enough to impact billions of people worldwide. Until the project’s recent start, scientists were only vaguely aware of the scale and impact of the global chimney. The warm waters in this area feed thunderstorms with heat and moisture, which loft all sorts of gases above the lowest layer of atmosphere, known as the troposphere, into the stratosphere.

At that altitude gases move horizontally, rather than vertically, as they do in the troposphere, and can therefore spread much further around the globe. Better understanding the chemical composition and transport within the chimney, however, could greatly advance our knowledge of the atmosphere and how it may respond to a changing climate. The researchers hope an added bonus could be understanding how pollutants are transported and transformed as air is pushed along the tropics, which could have a direct effect on people living downwind of major air pollution sources. "There are a lot of consequences from this type of air motion," says Elliot Atlas, professor of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami and a principal investigator for the project. "There is a link between the chemistry that goes on in this type of air motion and the subsequent effects on the trace gases and aerosols in the atmosphere that ultimately impact climate."

The scientists investigated the waters near Guam last winter using three different high-tech aircraft to collect air samples and examine the abundance, distribution and transformation of various gases in the tropical atmosphere. Some of those gases in the chimney system such as chlorofluorocarbons (found in refrigerants and aerosols) and bromine compounds (found in products such as fire extinguishers) are man-made and can become trapped in the stratosphere, lingering there for years. Those compounds alone can destroy ozone, which helps block the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. (Those rays can contribute to the destruction of crops as well as human skin cancer.) Other compounds, especially the more reactive bromine compounds, can be made naturally, however. Over the last decade scientists have more closely looked at the amount of bromine in the stratosphere and realized it must have sources beyond the long-lived, man-made compounds. The consensus was that natural bromine compounds were being produced by marine organisms and released into the atmosphere. These compounds are relatively short-lived, however, so the scientists suggest that they react in the tropical atmosphere to form inorganic bromine containing compounds, such as bromine monoxide, which can eventualy lead to ozone depletion. Phytoplankton and other plants in the surface ocean can emit gases containing bromine and also chlorine and iodine into the water, which then escape into the atmosphere. Although the distribution of these emissions is still uncertain, measurements have indicated that the tropical oceans could be major sources, lofting them into the atmosphere where they can ultimately contribute to reactions that control tropospheric and stratospheric ozone.

So, the scientists are actively trying to understand how ocean biology might respond to changes in water circulation, nutrient supply, temperature and other factors, all of which could influence the reactive gas emissions and, in turn, feed into the chemical cycles that further influence climate through changes in greenhouse gases. The planet’s climate ultimately becomes altered when these gases start to affect the amount of energy from the sun that is allowed to reach Earth’s surface or is stored in the atmosphere.

Besides increasing or decreasing the levels of ozone in the upper atmosphere, some of the chemicals also contribute directly to the greenhouse effect. For example, added water vapor pumped into the upper atmosphere from the chimney increases the amount of energy trapped there, in turn heating the planet further. Another principal investigator for the project, Laura Pan, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., believes storm clusters over this area of the Pacific are likely to influence climate in new ways, especially as the warm ocean temperatures (which feed the storms and chimney) continue to heat up and atmospheric patterns continue to evolve. "Understanding the impact of these storms will help us gain ground truth for improving the chemistry–climate models we use to project future climate," she says. Defining those linkages, however, is an obviously complex task, according to Ross Salawitch, a University of Maryland, College Park, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and another principal investigator. "The various processes and feedbacks between the physical forcing factors in the climate system are under active investigation by a whole community of climate scientists," he says. "The addition of biological interactions adds another layer of complexity (and uncertainty) to the eventual outcomes of changing temperatures, circulations and so on. Rising temperatures, for example, could either increase or decrease biological productivity," Salawitch says, as well as the emission of certain less-prevalent gases that are exchanged between the air and ocean. "Perhaps increased ocean acidification could be another controlling factor," he adds.

Only one other major circulation has been considered a "global chimney." The other (much smaller) major pathway for transporting air from the lower atmosphere to the stratosphere is the Asian monsoon circulation, which prevails in the summer. Efforts are underway to conduct similar aircraft observations in the region of the Asian monsoon. The researchers have also identified smaller circulations that could significantly affect atmospheric chemistry such as the North American monsoon and convections over Africa. The idea for this type of project dates back to 1999, according to Salawitch. He says the project didn’t swing into action until recently, however, because work involving multiple complex aircraft and research teams takes a long time to plan (especially for high-altitudes). And although the collection process is now over, the scientists have a lot of data to sift through before they can say for sure what exactly is happening in this chimney and what its future impact on the world’s climate could be. "The data collected during these missions will stand as benchmarks for testing how well the tropics are represented in computer simulations and in forecasts of future climate," Salawitch says. The complete analysis, he notes, could last two years or more. More

 

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer is Coming

"Studies such as these help us gaze into the uncertain future and ask if that is what we want for our children. Most of us don’t. A few of us actually try to do something to change it. For the rest, the lag time is comforting. The complexity of non-linear feedback systems gives us an excuse to procrastinate."

Why are zombies so ubiquitous in contemporary popular culture? The HBO mini-series, Game of Thrones, supplies one theory. Unlike in the AMC series, Walking Dead, or in the film, World War Z, the undead are not coming on like a Blitzkrieg hoard. Rather, the White Walkers are building slowly, as a rumor, sometimes killing the messenger and leaving the message undelivered. “Winter is coming” is an expression that hangs in the air, deepening the sense of foreboding.

One reviewer (for The New York Times) observed that “bringing in the White Walkers might be a way to ultimately point up the pettiness of politics — which is to say, no one cares who sits on what throne once zombies start eating people.”Thrones’ first four seasons of “people slicing, stabbing, axing, poisoning, eating, crushing and moon-dooring one another in every possible context,” underscore the point — that the pettiness of politics still rules the day.

Game of Thrones resonates because outside the window is the drama of NATO expansion bumping up against retired Red Army vets in the Ukraine, the unmasking of shadow banks in the U.K. by the Financial Times and shadowing governments by Edward Snowden, or the sniper battle on the U.S. Republican right that is so entertaining to MSNBC and CNN. It is all much ado about nothing. Just North of our popular culture Wall is a climate juggernaut, building momentum.

Both scenarios — business as usual and drastic curtailment — produce a temperature and climate regime that would likely be lethal for modern civilization, if not the human race. In the Cancun round of the Committee of Parties in 2010, United Nations high level negotiators produced a general agreement — over the opposition of the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Israel and other obstructionists — that "recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” 2°C was the “line in the sand” beyond which global temperatures should not be allowed to climb. In the latest three rounds— Durban, Doha and Warsaw — there has been a strong push from the science and civil sectors to reduce the target to 1.5°C to avert potentially unmanageable risks of tipping points from which no recovery would be possible. Since Warsaw last December some of these points — the inexorable slippage of ice in Antarctica and the release of methane from permafrost to name two — have tipped.

The NCA3 study is saying, essentially, we are in dangerous territory whether we stop emissions tomorrow or not. Summer temperatures in the U.S. have been rising on average 0.4 degrees F per decade since 1970, or about 0.2 C. Average summertime temperature increase has been 1°C overall, but the Southwest and West regions have borne the brunt of those increases, and temperatures have risen an average of 0.4°C, with a few localized areas warming as much as 0.6°C per decade. This is 5 times faster than the Earth as a whole warmed in the 20thcentury. North America, which lags other parts of the planet, is now in an exponential curve of accelerating change

“There are a number of findings in this report that sound an alarm bell signaling the need for action to combat the threats from climate change. For instance, the amount of rain coming down in heavy downpours and deluges across the U.S. is increasing; there’s an increase that’s already occurring in heat waves across the middle of the U.S.; and there are serious observed impacts of sea-level rise occurring in low-lying cities such as Miami, where, during high tides, certain parts of the city flood and seawater seeps up through storm drains. These are phenomena that are already having direct adverse impacts on human well-being in different parts of this country.”

Studies such as these help us gaze into the uncertain future and ask if it is really what we want for our children. Most of us don’t. A few of us actually try to do something to change it. For the rest, the lag time is comforting. The complexity of non-linear feedback systems gives us an excuse to procrastinate. More

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Solar is here

Solar is here.

That's right. You know the solutions to the climate crisis are available today; we simply need the public (and political) will to implement them. Clean energy is urgently necessary, abundant, and becoming increasingly more affordable. That's why on June 21, The Climate Reality Project is joining 12 other organizations in a day of action to support clean-energy solutions and show our commitment to bringing solar power to communities around the world.

If you don't already have plans to take part on Saturday, don't despair! Here are a few last minute ways to get involved:

  1. Sign: Send President Obama an email thanking him for putting solar panels on the roof of the White House.
  2. Share: Take your own #PutSolarOnIt photo and share it with your social media network.
  3. Discover: Check out the Mosaic website to find out if solar is right for you.
  4. Participate: Check out OFA's website to find an event near you, some of which are being hosted by your fellow Climate Reality Leaders.

The reality is this: solar is affordable. It's clean. And it's powerful. The cost of solar panels has plummeted 60 percent since early 2011, and the number of installations keeps growing. The United States now has enough installed solar capacity to power more than 2.2 million homes. In several states, solar power is now competitive with other sources of energy without emitting the dangerous greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Climate Reality Leaders are the first responders to the climate crisis and lead action across the globe. We're proud so many of you will be participating on Saturday by hosting presentations, organizing events, and informing others about the benefits of solar power.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps Team

Solar Array at Caledonian Bank, George Town, Cayman Islands

 

 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Climate change will ‘cost world far more than estimated’

Lord Stern, the world’s most authoritative climate economist, has issued a stark warning that the financial damage caused by global warming will be considerably greater than current models predict.

This makes it more important than ever to take urgent and drastic action to curb climate change by reducing carbon emissions, he argues.

Lord Stern, who wrote a hugely influential review on the financial implications of climate change in 2006, says the economic models that have been used to calculate the fiscal fallout from climate change are woefully inadequate and severely underestimate the scale of the threat.

As a result, even the recent and hugely authoritative series of reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are significantly flawed, he said.

“It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the IPCC report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its ... impacts on the economy,” said Lord Stern, a professor at the Grantham Institute, a research centre at the London School of Economics.

Professor Stern and his colleague Dr Simon Dietz will today publish the peer-reviewed findings of their research into climate change economic modelling in the The Economic Journal.

Their review is highly critical of established economic models which, among other things, fail to acknowledge the full breadth of climate change’s likely impact on the economy and are predicated on assumptions about global warming’s effect on output that are “without scientific foundation”.

Professor Stern, whose earlier research said it is far cheaper to tackle climate change now than in the future, added: “I hope our paper will prompt ... economists to strive for much better models [and] ... help policy-makers and the public recognise the immensity of the potential risks of unmanaged climate change.”

“Models that assume catastrophic damages are not possible fail to take account of the magnitude of the issues and the implications of the science,” he said.

Professor Stern and Dr Dietz say their findings strengthen the case for strong cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and imply that, unless this happens, living standards could even start to decline later this century.

For the study, they modified key features of the “dynamic integrated climate-economy” (Dice) model, initially devised by William Nordhaus in the 1990s. The changes take into account the latest scientific findings and some of the uncertainties about the major risks of climate change that are usually omitted.

The standard Dice model has been used in a wide range of economic studies of the potential impacts of climate change, some of which have been cited in the most recent IPCC report which has been released in three parts over the past nine months.

Dr Dietz said: “While this standard economic model has been useful for economists who estimate the potential impacts of climate change, our paper shows some major improvements are needed before it can reflect the extent of the risks indicated by the science.”

Dr Dietz said his aim was to show how a new version of the model could produce a range of results that are much more representative of the science and economics of climate change, taking into account the uncertainties.

“The new version of this standard economic model, for instance, suggests that the risks from climate change are bigger than portrayed by previous economic models and therefore strengthens the case for strong cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said.

The new model differs in that it considers a wider temperature range when estimating the impact of doubling the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases – a measure of “climate sensitivity”.

Whereas the standard model usually assumes a single temperature for climate sensitivity of about 3C, the new model uses a range of 1.5C to 6C, which the authors say more accurately reflects the scientific consensus.

The standard model also “implausibly” suggests a loss of global output of 50 per cent would only result after a rise in global average temperature of 18C, even though such warming would likely render the Earth uninhabitable for most species, including humans, Dr Dietz contends.

The new model includes the possibility that such damage could occur at much lower levels of global warming. Standard economic models rule out the possibility that global warming of 5-6C above pre-industrial levels could cause catastrophic damages, even though such temperatures have not occurred on Earth for tens of millions of years. Such an assertion, he says, is without scientific foundation and embodies a false assumption that the risks are known, with great confidence, to be small.

The new model also takes into account that climate change can damage not just economic output, but productivity. The standard model assumes that rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere only affect economic growth in a very limited way, according to Dr Dietz. More

 

 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Saving trees in tropics could cut emissions by one-fifth, study shows

Reducing deforestation in the tropics would significantly cut the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere -- by as much as one-fifth -- research shows. In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the world's tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity.

Reducing deforestation in the tropics would significantly cut the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere -- by as much as one-fifth -- research shows.

In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the world's tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity.

They found that tropical forests absorb almost two billion tonnes of carbon each year, equivalent to one-fifth of the world's carbon emissions, by storing it in their bark, leaves and soil. However, an equivalent amount is lost through logging, clearing of land for grazing, and growing biofuel crops such as palm oil, soya bean and sugar. Peat fires in forests add significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers estimate that if all human-related deforestation of the tropics were to stop, the forests could absorb more carbon than at present, equivalent to one-fifth of global emissions.

Researchers say carbon emissions from tropical forests will increase as the climate warms, as rising temperatures accelerate the decay of dead plants and trees, giving off more CO2. Global temperatures are forecast to rise by two degrees by the year 2099, which is predicted to increase annual carbon emissions from the forest by three-quarters of a billion tonnes.

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds analysed data from multiple previous studies, including satellite studies, to determine the amount of carbon absorbed and emitted by the world's tropical forests in South and Central America, equatorial Africa and Asia.

Their study, published in Global Change Biology, was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Professor John Grace of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: "If we limit human activity in the tropical forests of the world, this could play a valuable role in helping to curb the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Preventing further losses of carbon from our tropical forests must remain a high priority." More


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. John Grace, Edward Mitchard, Emanuel Gloor. Perturbations in the carbon budget of the tropics. Global Change Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12600

 

 

Monday, June 2, 2014

James Lovelock: 'enjoy life while you can: in 20 years global warming will hit the fan'

In 1965 executives at Shell wanted to know what the world would look like in the year 2000. They consulted a range of experts, who speculated about fusion-powered hovercrafts and "all sorts of fanciful technological stuff".

James Lovelock

When the oil company asked the scientist James Lovelock, he predicted that the main problem in 2000 would be the environment. "It will be worsening then to such an extent that it will seriously affect their business," he said.

"And of course," Lovelock says, with a smile 43 years later, "that's almost exactly what's happened."

Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if maverick - independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.

For decades, his advocacy of nuclear power appalled fellow environmentalists - but recently increasing numbers of them have come around to his way of thinking. His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report deploys less dramatic language - but its calculations aren't a million miles away from his.

As with most people, my panic about climate change is equalled only by my confusion over what I ought to do about it. A meeting with Lovelock therefore feels a little like an audience with a prophet. Buried down a winding track through wild woodland, in an office full of books and papers and contraptions involving dials and wires, the 88-year-old presents his thoughts with a quiet, unshakable conviction that can be unnerving. More alarming even than his apocalyptic climate predictions is his utter certainty that almost everything we're trying to do about it is wrong.

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"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."

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests."

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? "No we don't. Because we can't." And recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a waste of time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to little more than "ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. "Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam ... or if it wasn't one in the beginning, it becomes one."

Somewhat unexpectedly, Lovelock concedes that the Mail's plastic bag campaign seems, "on the face of it, a good thing". But it transpires that this is largely a tactical response; he regards it as merely more rearrangement of Titanic deckchairs, "but I've learnt there's no point in causing a quarrel over everything". He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy.

"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

This is all delivered with an air of benign wonder at the intractable stupidity of people. "I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they're doing. They want business as usual. They say, 'Oh yes, there's going to be a problem up ahead,' but they don't want to change anything."

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."

Faced with two versions of the future - Kyoto's preventative action and Lovelock's apocalypse - who are we to believe? Some critics have suggested Lovelock's readiness to concede the fight against climate change owes more to old age than science: "People who say that about me haven't reached my age," he says laughing.

But when I ask if he attributes the conflicting predictions to differences in scientific understanding or personality, he says: "Personality."

There's more than a hint of the controversialist in his work, and it seems an unlikely coincidence that Lovelock became convinced of the irreversibility of climate change in 2004, at the very point when the international consensus was coming round to the need for urgent action. Aren't his theories at least partly driven by a fondness for heresy?

"Not a bit! Not a bit! All I want is a quiet life! But I can't help noticing when things happen, when you go out and find something. People don't like it because it upsets their ideas."

But the suspicion seems confirmed when I ask if he's found it rewarding to see many of his climate change warnings endorsed by the IPCC. "Oh no! In fact, I'm writing another book now, I'm about a third of the way into it, to try and take the next steps ahead."

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock's predictions of doom, and his good humour. "Well I'm cheerful!" he says, smiling. "I'm an optimist. It's going to happen."

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when "we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn't know what to do about it". But once the second world war was under way, "everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday ... so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that's what people want." More