James Lovelock’s terror masks the same old industrial-era thinking
In the new issue of Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell has a profile of James Lovelock, father of the Gaia Hypothesis and foremost representative of the OMFG we’re all totally f*cked!!1! school of green thinking:
In Lovelock’s view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. "The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia," Lovelock says. "How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable." With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes — Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.
… To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won’t make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. "Green," he tells me, only half-joking, "is the color of mold and corruption."
Naturally, someone so deeply in the throes of panic will turn to any solution, no matter how far-fetched, that might match the size and speed of the catastrophe just around the corner. It’s the green version of the Hail Mary pass, and Lovelock’s recommendations serve as a kind of Guide to the Environmentalism of Fear:
- •Nuclear power
A couple of things to note about this list.
First, though the items on it might seem "radical," and Lovelock certainly sells them that way, in fact they’re anything but. The are big, yes. And expensive. But they fit perfectly well within the industrial paradigm. It’s all about constructing enormous, complex devices to beat back or overcome nature. All of Lovelock’s solutions — like the solutions that tend to be favored by the industrial powers that be — are a species of violence. One can perfectly easily envision governments embracing these solutions, diverting huge amounts of taxpayer money to enormous, politically connected industries, engaging in fraud-ridden boondoggles while increasing and cementing control over their populations.
Fear begets violence. Violence begets authoritarianism. That Lovelock is trying to "save humanity" doesn’t change the dynamic.
This is how humanity has approached its problems for centuries now. Lovelock’s advice is a kind of reductio ad absurdum of humanity’s hubris, a Strangelovian way to ride the rocket of our own exceptionalism into the inferno.
The alternative is to learn from nature — to act on the knowledge that we are in and of nature. Here are some principles of natural design as conceived by the biomimicry community:
• Waste = Food
• Self-assemble, from the ground up
• Evolve solutions, don’t plan them
• Relentlessly adjust to the here & now
• Cooperate and compete, not just one or the other
• Diversify to fill every niche
• Gather energy and materials efficiently
• Optimize the system rather than maximizing components
• The whole is greater than the sum of its parts — design for swarm
• Use minimal energy and materials
• "Don’t foul your nest"
• Organize fractally
• Chemical reactions should be in water at normal temperature and pressure
• Vogel’s mechanical-engineering-specific principles (summarized):
- Nature’s factories produce things much larger, not smaller, than themselves.
- We use metals, nature never does
- Nature makes gradual transitions in structures (curves, density gradients, etc.) rather than sharp corners.
- We make things out of many components, each of which is homogeneous; nature makes things out of fewer components but they vary internally.
- We design for stiffness, nature designs for strength and toughness.
- Our mechanisms have rigid pieces moving on sliding contacts, nature bends/twists/stretches.
- Nature often uses diffusion, surface tension, and laminar flow; we often use gravity, thermal conductivity, and turbulence.
- Our engines are mostly rotary or expansive, nature’s are mostly sliding or contracting.
- Nature’s engines are isothermal.
- Nature mostly stores mechanical work as elastic energy, sometimes as gravitational potential energy.
Imagine a post-industrial future for humanity, based on these principles. Compare it to Lovelock’s desperate council. Pick which one you prefer, and fight for it. Don’t be bullied into panicked, desperate measures by tales of impending doom — there’s already been enough of that in this young century.