Climate disaster 'upon us'

Tim Radford, science editor
Tuesday June 1, 2004
The Guardian

Humans have done so much damage to the atmosphere that even if they stop burning all fossil fuels immediately, they risk leaving an impoverished Earth for their descendants, a giant of research in the field will say this week.

James Lovelock, who detected the build-up of ozone-destroying CFCs and formulated the Gaia theory now widely adopted by environmentalists and biologists, will tell a conference in Devon: "We have not yet awakened to the seriousness of global warming."

The Gaia hypothesis is that life itself regulates the chemistry of the atmosphere, the oceans and the bedrock for life's collective benefit. Any disturbance of the process could have dramatic consequences.

Recently researchers have begun to point to such dramatic outcomes, Prof Lovelock says.

· A Swiss team examined the heatwave that killed 20,000 people in western Europe last year and decided it was almost certainly a consequence of global warming.

· British, Belgian and German scientists reported that the entire Greenland icecap would begin to melt irreversibly if average temperatures rose by 2.7C (4.7F). This melting would take 1,000 years to complete, but would but raise sea levels by seven metres.

· A team from the US National Ocean and Atmosphere Admin istration reported that the sea-level's rise in recent years had been a consequence of the accelerated melting of glaciers.

Prof Lovelock, 84, will tell the conference on the science of Gaia at Dartington Hall, Totnes, on Thursday that some people deny the reality of climate change and want business as usual, while others recognise the threat and embrace organic food, renewable energy and alternative medicine.

"If we follow either of these responses, it will allow Gaia eventually to return to her normal state of health - but by eliminating the majority of humans and probably civilisation as well," he says.

Better science and more advanced technology offer the greatest hope.

"We need a portfolio of energy sources, with nuclear playing a major part, at least until fusion power becomes a practical option.

"We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Almost a third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all-pervasive carcinogen, oxygen.

"If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Informant: NHNE


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