All posts by zcadmin

Food for Thought 07/11/12 – further info links


Many thanks to Marta Olazabal for such an informative and thought-provoking talk today!

For those of you who wanted to read further, the links are:

More info: (you can sign up to the mailing list here)


See you next week!


The Zero Carbon Society are recruiting committee members!

Join the Zero Carbon committee!

Want to get more involved in the society? We are recruiting two new committee members!
– Speaker series co-ordinator: As one of two co-ordinators, this involves planning and over-seeing our weekly talk and discussion group ‘Food for Thought.’ What do you think needs to be talked and thought about? See your ideas come to fruition with a series for Lent Term 2013.
– Campaigns co-ordinator: Does running a university-wide campaign in Lent 2013 appeal to you? We have had the idea that vegetarianism might be a good direction to go in (Be Vegetarian for Lent (term)?) – but what do you think?

Both positions also allow you to be involved in directing other areas of societal activity – development of GreenZine, attending local events eg. meeting with Julian Huppert MP last week, working on a green internship network and involvement with the University’s Living Labs Project, engagement with the university policy campaign group Energise Cambridge.

To apply, email by Wednesday 14th November with the following information:

*Who you are: name, college, subject

*What role you are applying for and why you think you’d do a good job.

Food for Thought Review: The Gigatonne Gap in China’s CO2 Inventories.

Food for Thought Review: The Gigatonne Gap in China’s CO2 Inventories.
by Mya Goschalk

‘Food for Thought’ is a weekly discussion group led by PhD students, the first of which was Soren Lindner who wrote an influential research paper on the gap between China’s officially stated CO2 emissions, and the reality. They came to the conclusion that China released 1.4 gigatonnes of CO2 emission higher than officially stated by the government, which amounts to 5% of global output. When prompted to make a press statement on these findings, the Chinese climate minister suggested that we should to look at historic accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from industrialised nations such as the UK.

This ‘gap’ in the data has been explained by problems in methods of collection by the Chinese government. The national bureau of statistics develops surveys for households and industries which is then conducted by the local authorities in thirty provinces. The report found that the biggest gap is from misreporting in raw oil consumption, and that yearly data shows this gap getting bigger since 1997. Soeren put forward two main reasons for this discrepancy. The first is the fact that in the last ten years the big industries came together to form industrial parks whilst the smaller firms relocated to less developed provinces which lack some of the institutional resources to record correctly. The second main reason is that there is competition between the provinces as they are competing for growth. Each province over-reports regional GDP, which in order to fit the data means that energy data also needs to be over-reported. In contrast, national data is under-reported in order to please the international community.

What becomes increasingly important now, are the implications of this ‘gap.’ Firstly, within China there is a plan for an emission trading scheme between provinces, but in order for this to be established there must be reliable data. Secondly, for countries in the West this has a large effect on trying to calculate their own carbon footprints when taking imports into account, as the data on the production side will be incorrect. And finally, arguably most importantly, is the effect that these huge uncertainties will have on climate models.

It is clear that what must be done now is to look for solutions to avoid these discrepencies, and make it increasingly aware that this type of CO2 ‘gap’ may also be occurring in other countries.

Food for Thought Week 2’s topic will be ‘Shallow Geothermal Systems for Space Heating and Cooling’ – Denis Garber, PhD Student, Energy Efficient Cities Initiative. Wednesday 17th October, Wordsworth Room, St. John’s, 1pm-2pm. The talk will start at about 1:10 so don’t worry if you’re a little late. Bring your lunch and munch as you listen, then we’ll have a relaxed discussion/Q&A session. We hope to see you there!

Food for Thought Week 1

Don’t miss Food for Thought (our lunchtime lecture and discussion group), which kicks off this Wednesday – the topic for this week is ‘The Gigatonne Gap in China’s Carbon Dioxide Inventories’ – Soren Linder, PhD Student, Dept. of Land Economy.

Wordsworth Room, St. John’s, 1pm-2pm. The talk will start at about 1:10 so don’t worry if you’re a little late. Bring your lunch and munch as you listen, then we’ll have a relaxed discussion/Q&A session. See you there!

**Freshers’ Squash 2012**

This week, make sure to come along to our *FRESHERS SQUASH* which will be held on Saturday (6th October) at 1-2pm in the Dirac Room (which is in the Fischer Building) at St. John’s College. We will be presenting our activities and plans in more detail, and would like to find out what you want to see happen and what you want to get involved with. We really hope to see you there for the launch of an exciting year!

Freshers’ Fair Information (but not just for freshers!) – This Year’s Plans

Here’s the main bits you need to know about this year’s plans (I stress the ‘plans’ part, as we also want your ideas and involvement to shape what happens).

Freshers’ Fair Info

Remember that the Freshers’ Squash will be held this Saturday (6th October) at 1-2pm in the Dirac Room (which is in the Fischer Building at St. John’s College). The idea is that you can get a feel for the society, and how you can get involved in a way that suits you. I look forward to seeing you there! Grace (current president :) ).

PS. If you can’t make it to the squash – don’t worry! Drop me a line at and I’ll give you a rundown of what happened and what you can do next!

The Cambridge Summer Programme in International Energy Policy and Climate Change Risk Assessment

The Cambridge Summer Programme in International Energy Policy and Climate Change Risk Assessment is run by the Institute for the Environment of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States in collaboration with the E3 Foundation and Cambridge Science and Policy Consulting.

Through tutorials on energy, sustainability, risk, decisions and community design, and a set of team-based projects chosen by the students in collaboration with programme sponsors, students learn about ways to bring sustainability, carbon dioxide reduction practices and climate change resilience to individuals, institutions, communities and nations, using the City of Cambridge and the UK as the core examples but with principles that can be applied world-wide.

From start to finish, the entire programme lasts 5 weeks, usually beginning in the first week of July. This year a group of undergraduate students from various academic years and disciplines from the University of Cambridge attended the programme. The places were generously granted by Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown to the Zero Carbon Society, who duly advertised the opportunity.

Here is what two attendees said about their experience:

Katherine Howell, 2nd year, Geography at St. Catharine’s:
I felt the programme was a really constructive use of five weeks – part
course, part research project. The classes raised questions, approaches and
concepts that lie outside my subject but are really important to climate
change mitigation – like Doug’s mantra ‘run the numbers’. Working with the
UNC students and students from a huge range of disciplines definitely
helped broaden perspective too. The project involved producing, in a small
group, a package for Cambridge City Council including a literature review
and recommendations for a guidance for retrofits in conservation areas.
This was particularly rewarding, knowing that our work will feed into
something concrete, practical and exciting. This should be a good CV-boost
as it ties in both with academic research and environmental consultancy.

Charlotte Rogers-Washington, 1st year, Geography at Girton
Applying for this summer programme was a very last minute decision for me
but I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to be involved in such a
programme. The specific project that I worked on was titled ‘You-Gov
Incentives Survey’. The main aim was to help You-Gov create questions for a
survey that would find out what incentives residents (occupant owners,
landlords, tennants etc) needed in order for them to retrofit their homes
or properties. This process took the form of email correspondence and a
conference call. Unfortunately, due to time restrictions, during the course
of the summer programme we only managed to create a draft for the survey
although we will hopefully continue to stay in contact with You-Gov.
However, my group did run our draft survey independently from You-Gov to
give ourselves an idea of how the questions we created would be recieved
and of the sorts of answers we could expect.

This programme was a very positive experience. It was mostly self motivated
and as we were in direct contact with official and respected organisations
it felt very much like a real world experience. It has made me realise I
definitely want to do something environmental in the future and it helped
me create potentially valuable connections with You-Gov Cambridge.

More information about the programme can be found at:

Keep in touch with the Society to hear about more great opportunities like this one!

Book review: Limits to Growth, the 30‐year update

Book review: Limits to Growth, the 30‐year update, By Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows

Review by Alex Coulton

The content of the 30 year update is well researched and rich in detail. The scrupulous approach aimed at achieving complete transparency clearly illustrates the boundaries of the arguments and theories advanced. Today we have irrevocable proof that limits to growth do exist; fish stock depletion, hole in the ozone layer, depletion of conventional oil reserves and Climate Change are but a few examples. Whilst reading this book I had a recurring feeling of three scientists, who are tired of repeating themselves, tired of hearing the same criticism and frustrated by the inaction of world’s leadership. Looking back in time, the amazing success of the original publication is made clear by the vehement criticism that is received (Eastin, J & al, 2010; Turner G. 2008; Wendy, B. 1998, Aligica, P.D. 2009). It seems that the critics are split in two categories. Most were based on an incorrect portrayal of the content of the book and revolved around short‐term validation of predictions (Eastin, J & al, 2010). For others, Limits was an attack on the existing paradigm and became a deep ideological struggle.

What was very clear to me was that this book and the World3 model are an exercise in futures studies using predictions based on what the authors perceive as being critical trends. This has often been used by critics to discredit the theories put forth in the book. In response, the authors refute that they make any predictions. Wendy, B (1998) highlights this beautifully: ‘The authors of Limits struggled mightily to objectively justify their conditional predictions even as they denied that they were making predictions’ even though he refers to the original publication, this still holds true today. What is more important to me, and a belief to which I abide, is Wendy, B’s (1998) explanation that validates the use of predictions as a necessary and unavoidable tool in futures studies and that these predictions cannot be taken as factual. ‘To test the accuracy of a prediction by whether or not it turns out to be true is often misleading as an indicator of the validity of a prediction.’ Hence even though the book does make broad predictions these are not to be taken literally. They are an indication of the plausible future; they highlight trends and their possible outcomes. Another common critic is about the choice of boundaries. The highly aggregated nature of the World3 model lumps a lot of parameters in five key categories: population growth, non-renewable resource depletion, industrial output, pollution generation and agricultural output.

Additionally, no effort was made to model other factors such as politics or international relations and for instance makes no allowance for wars, regional or cultural differences. The authors highlight all these ‘caveats’ and the reasons for their decisions in depth. I will pursue my argument along other lines. In Scenario Planning it is critical to identify: the driving forces and the trends that respond to the precise questions that you are exploring (Lindgren, M., Bandhold, H. 2003). This process is limiting, it is not designed to be all encompassing or all knowing, on one hand because that is not possible and on the other because it would make the scenarios too complex to build and communicate. So as system scientists, the Authors and modellers have very astutely and successfully identified key trends and key driving forces in order to explore human growth. I personally support this approach for another reason. Complexity rarely brings clarity; the IPCC’s climate change model is not more able than World3 in predicting the future (even though, as we have seen above, the aim is not to actually predict the future) and the IPCC’s work has come under much criticism as well. By limiting the scope of the World3 parameters that affect our growth the authors have to clearly communicate the notion of exponential growth, and the underlying problems it represents. Foresight, scenario planning and other such techniques are now widely used by government, corporations and institutions and I feel that understand these tools adds a lot of credibility to the Authors’ approach revealing much of the criticism to be nothing more but detraction. This distortion of the Authors’ message by critics as well as proponents was illustrated when ‘Ecologist Paul Ehrlich wagered with economist Julian Simon that, with 1980 as a baseline, by 1990 market prices for cooper, chrome, nickel, tin and tungstend would dramatically increase, while Simon predicted that they would fall. Ehrich lost the wager (…)’ (Eastin, J & al, 2010).

The problem with my ‘world view’ is that although it is closely aligned to ‘Limits to Growth,’ I am very detached from the Authors’ realities and consequently the struggle that they have been involved in over nearly 40 years. Aligica, P.d. (2009) allowed me to gain a better understanding of the ‘competing perspectives’: The bi-polar ideologies held by the Limits to Growth Authors (Neo-Malthusianism movement) and the ‘free market supporters’ amongst who’s ranks Julian Simon’s figures prominently. Aligica, P.D. (2009) states: ‘With it [Limits to Growth] a new tradition was born. And in this respect it is no exaggeration to say that Simon [James] (…) with authors such as Herman, Kahn, created a counter-tradition by reaction systematically to what they considered to be the errors and even fabrications (…).’ Two points are worth highlighting here. The ‘systematic’ nature of the criticism and the reference to traditions. Lines were being drawn in the sand and you were either on one side or the other. Suffice to say that it does not set the scene for an objective analysis of the issue and therefore did not promote a constructive debate. This does great injustice to all the great minds involved. In many ways one could equate the ‘counter-tradition’ as a repeated misinterpretation of the message and vice versa. A positive feedback loop? ‘The limits to growth’ discourse about resources and population has been dominated by the concept of fixity or finiteness of resources (Aligicia, P.D 2009), in this Simon James is correct. The discourse has been dominated by resources limits however; this was only a small part of a much larger message which mostly got lost in the entrenchment. The authors of Limits to Growth do not suggest that humans do not have the creativity to overcome the stated limits (that are more than just resource based) as James suggests, but that within the current system structure they will not have time to overcome these due to the nature of the speed of exponential growth rates and the inherent delays in the system. To put it simply, market penetration of new technologies is measured in decades as does, for example, brokering international agreements to tackle pollution problems. Hence our Authors are indirectly rooting for many of James’ theories by advocating for time for them to prosper. Another key contention surrounds the ‘free market.’ James’s views are again well portrayed by Aligica, P.D (2009): ‘many people resist the idea that markets are the best mode of coordination and social distribution’ and these inadvertently link back to accusations of Marxism. Ironically, Karl Marx’s just so happened to be one of the most vocal critics of Malthus (Schoijet, M., 1999). Our Authors do not dismiss markets as the best mode for coordination and social distribution. Markets are an integral part of their strategy however they were, and still are, incapable of safeguarding us from the relationship between exponential growth rates and system delays that create overshoot. As our Authors highlight, even economists have been clamouring for many years for ‘internalizing the externalities’. Again, we can see that the opposing factions have much more common ground than they themselves perceived or where maybe willing to admit to. Another point of critique was the proposal of a ‘preferable’ future. This is unavoidably a subjective process which in the words of Wendy B (1998), ‘it (Limits to Growth) is an effort to better the human condition, to help create a human future more desirable than the future that probably would occur if humans keep doing what we were then doing.’. This introduction of values into the scientific method was highly criticized by James who says ‘Science, in the measure it deals with facts and nor with values, can hardly decide where there is a case of overpopulation or one of under-population (…) whether the growth rate is too fast or too slow’ Aligica P.d. (2009). It is unlikely that objectivity can ever be reached in the context of social sciences however putting forth a ‘preferable’ future is part of the ‘futures’ exercise (Wendy, B. 1998)!

Finally, Ekins, P. (1992), states ‘one of the most comprehensive rebuttals came from a team at Suisse University’s Science Policy and Research Uni (Cole et al., 1973). They criticised the relationships in Meadows’ model, the assumptions on which model was based and the emphasis on purely physical parameters.’ I would argue that in doing so they inadvertently validated the work of Limits to Growth, a work that did not just attempt to put forth a new vision for the world but to stimulate debate and reflection about how we intended on pursuing our futures. The Suisse team mitigated the limits to growth with ‘exponential increases in available resources (through discovery and recycling) and the ability to control pollution’ (Ekins, P. 1992). Recycling and introducting pollution control measures is vindicating the need to mitigate against uncontrolled growth again, time is the issue. Evolution? The incompatibility of the perceived message of Limits to Growth and the ‘free market’ proponents were brought together in the Brundtland report and the concept of ‘sustainable development.’ In my view the actual message in the 30 year update advocates for just that and so it seems did the original book (even though the terminology did not exist at the time). One could have imagined that this middle ground, a combination of sustainability and development, would settle the matter. This has been far from the truth. The ideological divide was brought into the very definition of ‘Sustainable development’. Schwarz, P.M & al. (2009) do a brilliant job at highlighting these entrenched views whilst Wilson, E.O. (2002) depicts the rift between environmentalists and economists. These deeply entrenched views are well ingrained in society and have been shaping the world of politics since the first publishing of Limits to Growth but are in fact part of a much larger debate.Today the climate change science denialists who dominate the Republican Party in the United States are the latest development in this war. In a recent article entitled Capitalism vs. The Change, Klein, N. (2011) reports that for the Heartland Institute’s president Joseph Bast ‘Climate change is the perfect thing…its the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway’ revealing the bigger picture in which this struggle is set.

Concluding remarks.

The first edition of Limits to Growth has had a deep seeded impact on society. On one sidethere has been a gradual shift in society’s perception towards a long term reflection on our actions as the principle of ‘sustainable development’ gains ground. On the other, the rift between the Authors (and their proponents) and their critics could hardly be more dramatic. Klein, N. (2011) highlights this wonderfully in the following sentence: ‘Many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging revelations (…) This is the crucial point to understand: it is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real world implications of those facts’ and although this is specifically about climate change, the arguments are one and the same. Hence, those who oppose it, oppose it despite the clear and concise argument because they are emotionally predisposed to disliking it even though as we find more and more evidence that limits do exist resistance to change only intensifies. Because of this, the 30 year update completely falls short of its aim although this does not reduce the importance of the Author’s message or their impact on society.

Archive: The Case for an International Court for the Environment

This article was kindly submitted by Stephen Hockman QC in Nov 2011.



The Case for an International Court for the Environment

Lack of an appropriate institution

“It is a trite observation that environmental problems, although they closely affect municipal laws, are essentially international; and that the main structure of control can therefore be no other than that of international law”.
(Sir Robert Jennings QC, former President of the International Court of Justice, 1995)

Environmental problems extend across international boundaries, but there are no effective international institutions to deal with them properly. The result: the problems worsen and attempts by countries to solve them fail due to the lack of an institutional framework within which to build the necessary international consensus and trust.

The present corpus of international environmental obligations – in conventions and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) – is fractured and often overlapping. There is little or no opportunity for the development of consistent decision making or interpretation of those obligations. Uncertainty results, to the detriment of all interested parties – States, businesses, communities, NGOs and individuals.

There are proposals for a “World Environment Organisation” (a “WEO” – equivalent in scope to the WTO). Such a body would need a court or tribunal to resolve disputes and issue clarifications of obligations – along the lines of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement process.

Existing dispute resolution mechanisms in the international environmental field restrict access to justice, in most cases to States (as with the ICJ) or where at least one party is a State (as with the Permanent Court of Arbitration) or very limited categories of non-State actors. This leaves significant constituencies without access to those services – an anomalous position in an interconnected world where States are often not the key actors in cross-border interactions.

There is no suitable forum presently able to apply scientific and legal expertise to international environmental disputes or problems. The much respected ICJ has been criticised in this regard (missing “a golden opportunity”) by its own judges in a dissenting opinion in Argentina v Uruguay – Pulp Mills (20 April 2010).

An International Court for the Environment (ICE)

We want to create an ICE that would help to solve these problems. It would:

  • Serve as the default forum for resolution of disputes concerning international environmental law; pronounce on issues of environmental significance impartially and with the benefit of independently-verified science; and clarify existing international environmental law by issuing advisory opinions and declarations of incompatibility.
  • Encourage the consensual and progressive development of international environmental law.
  • Provide a neutral, transparent and principled dispute resolution forum which could help to build trust and to work against the pervasive environmental problem “the tragedy of the commons”: for example, in the ongoing UN climate change negotiations and in fishing.
  • Seek to adjudicate expertly on the science as well as the law, using: judges with experience in both science and law; advisors on a judicial panel; and/or independent experts available for questions/cross-examination.
  • Initially be established as a voluntary dispute resolution forum, open to any body wishing to benefit from the expertise and impartial adjudication offered, and proving its worth by example.
  • Serve as the chamber for all MEAs which reference Art 33(1) of the UN Charter, facilitating communication, problem solving and the interchange of ideas and expertise and avoiding the compartmentalisation of the present system.
  • Provide support to a WEO. ICE would be a natural partner to such an organization to provide dispute resolution services as seen in the WTO and to assist in harmonising international responses to environmental issues.
  • Offer access to justice to State and non-State actors alike, meeting a need in the global economy where national borders are increasingly irrelevant. It would have a constitution designed to reflect the need for the protection of both present and future generations and would be fully committed to implementing Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and the Aarhus Convention, requiring access to justice for all concerned citizens.
  • Apply a de minimis or other threshold or sufficient seriousness test to prevent vexatious or meritless claims.
  • Apply all those relevant legal rules and principles, whether international or municipal, which it deems appropriate and proper having regard to the character of the dispute before it.
  • Likely be located away from the “usual” seats of international courts (The Hague, Geneva, New York etc) to reflect:
    • The problems with which it will deal (often in developing countries)
    • The problematic link between economic growth and environmental degradation (principally a developing country issue)
    • The fact that many of the users of the court will not be in the rich West.

ICE Coalition at present

The ICE Coalition is calling for the establishment of an ICE. Its work to date includes:

  • Incorporated as a not for profit company limited by guarantee in UK.
  • Obtained tax-exempt status in California under IRC s.501(c)(3).
  • Engagement with UK Government, in particular: DECC, DEFRA, FCO.
  • Through its partnership with the Stakeholder Forum ICE is now participating in the preparations for the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 2012 including involvement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Engagement with the UN Secretariat in New York.
  • Engagement and involvement with UNEP itself and in particular its International Environmental Governance workstream (including, most recently, at the 26th Session of the Governing Council, Nairobi, February 2011).
  • Involvement with the UNFCCC process, including presenting at the COP-MOP in Copenhagen 2009.
  • Established links with Governments of Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya, UK, Finland, Mauritius and with the EU
  • Obtained support of international law firms: Clifford Chance, DLA Piper.

An Advisory Council has been established and includes the following supporters: Jarvis Cocker, Fabio Feldman, Professor Richard Fortey, Lord Giddens, Isabel Hilton, Teresa Hitchcock, Nigel Howarth, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Sir David King, Caroline Lucas MP, Sir Jonathon Porritt, Professor John Schellnhuber, Professor Peter Spencer, Sir Crispin Tickell.

Summary Recommendations

  • Explicit inclusion of an ICE in treaties emerging from UNFCCC and UNEP processes and inclusion in any Rio 2012 text.
  • Recognition of the need for an ICE by national governments, business, NGOs, media (EU has already explicitly recognised the need).
  • High-level support in government, science, diplomacy, UN, legal profession and judiciary. Simultaneous building of popular support, principally online.
  • Offers of support from any person, organisation or country willing to host an ICE in its initial form.

Book review: The Vanishing Face of Gaia, by James Lovelock.

Reviewed by: Rodrigo Sanchez M., November 2011, Cambridge University.

The very word Gaia may be sufficient to scare away prospective readers of this book (Peter Schroeder, Physics today) but make no mistake: This is a scientific book, far from unfounded public opinions and politics driven media debates over climate change, pitifully frequent nowadays.

James Lovelock, 91 years old, is an independent scientist and a lifelong inventor. In 1961 he was engaged with NASA and its program of planetary exploration studying the composition of the Martian atmosphere for detecting life forms. He is the author of more than 200 scientific papers, distributed almost equally among topics in Medicine, Biology, Atmospheric Science and geophysiology. Lovelock was the first to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere, by inventing an electron capture detector back in 1957.

The Gaia theory establishes that earth climate self regulates, and that the biosphere affects and transform the environment, implying that the Earth and all its living forms behave as an integral living being. This implies an extraordinary complex system. This theory places man away form the ownership of the Earth to one of its many species, an uncomfortable position for many.

Nowadays science is divided into sets of well-differentiated and specific disciplines. However, this reductionist approach seems to be not suitable for dealing with complex problems such as climate change. The Earth climate problem in no exception to this approach, and scientist in general seem to lose the sight of the problem as a hole. Consequently, holistic systems science seems to be an emergent era.

Gaia theory complicates specific science elegant explanations and troubles independent scientific territories. Logically, this is an important reason of why this theory has irritated so many scientists and it has taken a long time for recognising it. The author thinks that this delay and the current reductionist approach of science in general, convenient for personal aggrandizement, could bring deadly consequences.

Lovelock makes a call, not to abandon the Cartesian way of thinking that has served the world so well, but to take the integral Gaia science seriously. He believes that the scientific world tends to live on the theory and models, missing good observers as Darwin was. He recognise this branch of science as the most important. Through the reading you will found interesting insights on how scientific theories evolve till becoming generally accepted.

He doesn’t propose a tangible solution to deal with the complexity of the climate change problem, but the value of this work relies in making the important step of uncovering the deficiencies of actual science.

Parables between his ideas, history and personal experience makes this reading easygoing. Nevertheless, the reader wont lose a pleasant tension created by the thought-provoking nature of Lovelock reasoning and proposals. But not everything is idyllic in this book.

In the first chapters the author has a very pessimistic posture over the future of humanity and life on Earth. His harsh posture becomes annoying when you realise that many of his negative predictions are not consistent or unfounded. In fact the authorrecognize that his pessimism is due to counteract the wrong belief of governments and businesses that climate change is easily and profitably reversible. Though his noble intention, this fact becomes a negative point for the book. Although he strongly criticise the credibility of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, when basing his negativeness he relies on them “IPCC report predicting a lack of water in many parts of the world by 2030”. Also he ventures to predict future climate even on specific pieces of land, after disapproving all current models and methods.

On the other hand Lovelock scares the reader with strong and well founded evidence, for example how the current Earth warming can’t be fully perceived yet, as the heat is mainly absorbed by the fast melting ice poles and the gradual sea temperature rise. But what will happen when there isn’t enough ice on the Earth to absorb the heat excess? A sudden movement to a hot state and bursting temperature rise seems to be very rational.

Lovelock argues for a faster movement towards a hot earth than the IPCC predicts. Through feed back loops, currently ignored by models, climate changes could occur at an astonishing speed, and rush towards hot states. An example of the above is the melting of the ice poles: as they melt, more heat is absorbed by the earth, which at the same time increases the ice melting. He criticizes actual models, as they fail to include this non-linear relationship between variables. Also he point out that observations are not being taken into account as most scientist seems to be sucked into their models. Observers scientists have measured sea level and temperature rising 1.6 and 1.3 times faster than the last IPCC prediction.

Climatology is mainly based on geophysics and geochemistry and climate change models don’t include physiological respond of ecosystems of land and oceans. This omission hides essential feedback loops, leading to incorrect predictions. James brings to mind that climatologist should be modelling Gaia instead of modelling atmospheric physics only.

Lovelock’s negativeness places the world in a situation where policy making should be equally focused on adaptation than in climate change mitigation. But if we are failing to predict the climate of the future, how are we going to plan any adaptation to it? I am more inclined to believe in a gradual process of adaptation in response to unknown changes, as man has done in his migratory history.

As you progress in reading the intentional pessimistic attitude of Lovelock seems to start dissolving together with the repetitive characteristic of his writing. Thus opening space for a rich and wide range of scientific reflection over different elements of the climate change issue, making clear that is much more than mere CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and its related warming. For example: Acidification of the oceans, due to human waste, makes the seas decrease the amount of CO2 that they can absorb, generating another important feedback loop.

In the Eocene epoch (millions of years ago) a geological accident released a huge amount of CO2 in the atmosphere enough to warm the earth up to 8 °C and took around 200,000 years for Gaia to return to the previews state. Geological records suggest that 55 million years ago the Arctic basin was tropical in temperature with abundant vegetation. Fourteen thousand years ago sea level rose 100 meters. Two billions years ago plant population growth produced a massive climate change in the earth by  ́polluting ́ it with Oxygen, condemning anaerobic ecosystems to and underground life. Like plants we could not avoid reaching an overpopulated state, so should we feel guilty?

The facts presented by Lovelock can make the reader question deep preconceptions,

as it happened to me: If we are just a specie in the Gaian auto-regulated system, aren’t our actions and impacts on the environment integral part of Life and a manifestation of its intelligence? The solutions we are planning to take aren’t part of the self-regulative intelligent power of Gaia also. If so, shouldn’t we do what we instinctively think is better and stop worrying? At the end all would be in the hands of Life, or Gaia.

Back to the book, you will find it ‘eyes opening’ in energy matters, as it contains groundbreaking ideas that reveal his quality as a scientist.

No alternative renewable energy source has yet made a significant impact on energy supply. He accuses the attractiveness of this energy sources to be linked with the benefits produced by subsidies and interrelated with the pressure of a fashionable green ideology. He thinks that this same force is responsible for penalizing clean nuclear energy. Subsidies generate more advertisement on still expensive green energy, generating a feedback loop ending in a growing unfounded trust over these solutions. He accuses green energy to be still to premature for mass implementation and affirms that probably it will take at least 10 years of technology and industry development to make a global impact with solar and tidal energy. Lovelock predicts that the wind energy agenda for England will be remembered as the great killer of this century and looks at the green ideology as a blind way of thinking instead of the life saving of the world. Nevertheless, he intelligently thinks of wind power as good energy source for desalinating water, another issue we will have to deal with.

Lovelock accuses a falsehood around Nuclear energy. The latter has been responsible of 100 dead since it’s operating in the world, much less than those caused by the fossil fuel generation industry. He sees wind energy as a weak solution, because its intermittent and it needs a constant back-up, commonly fossil fuel generation, when not producing. He uses this and other evidence to end in a well-founded conclusion that wind energy in the UK should be abandoned in favour of nuclear energy.

The author explores solutions to predicted problems of food scarcity and living space. He goes through some technological dreams as food synthesis from carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water. Not to crazy considering that a similar product, Qourn, is already commercialized in the supermarket. Lovelock dreams of high-tech compact civilizations able to manage global scarcity of food, water and space.

About geoengineering , you will discover its not new. Human became geoengineers as soon as they discovered fire. Plants also have been geoengineering the planet by changing the atmosphere composition since millions of years. However this solution is described as a double-edged sword, as it could be an excuse for continuing business as usual and with very dangerous side effects like ocean acidification due to uncapped CO2 emissions. I share his point of view that we are still to ignorant for using intentional geoengineering, and I aggregate that if we haven’t been able to reach tangible results in international CO2 reductions then why should we think that we could plan a global geoengineering policy?

Considering actual models and its characteristic uncertainty, I don’t share the opinion that geoengineering could serve as a solution to survive until something better is available, as its effects and side effects are impossible to quantify in a Gaian complex system. In 1991 Pinatubo eruption injected enough aerosols into the atmosphere to cool the temperature of the earth by 3 degrees, so at what extent should we plan, or believe we plan our future climate? Time will tell, but I don’t think we have reached enough maturity as specie.

Lovelock recalls that to understand Gaia requires and instinctive familiarity with the

dynamics of systems. Moreover he speaks about the importance of natural intuition, and thinks that we haven’t yet starting to develop the intuition of Gaia because it haven’t been important, till now, to the natural selection of our specie. It seems that our concern for the impact we are causing on the environment has not been honest enough, an as the author affirms, this could be because no consequences are visible yet. Nevertheless, natural catastrophes seem to condensate in time over the last decades.

Powerful statements in line with his holistic approach are expressed towards the end of the book: “We will fail to react correctly to changes and events until we intuitively recognize the Earth as a living organism”. I totally share this point of view, since we seem to have lost the intuition that makes other animals instinctively escape to the hills before a tsunami. Buffaloes, goats, dogs and flamingos don’t play with complex climate models, but were found unharmed in tsunami events where thousands of people perished (National Geographic).

For Lovelock, the modest experience of learning the old names of flowers from the farmland where he grew was a fundamental catalyst to develop this intuition, which goes beyond numbers.  ̈ We have the intelligence to begin to expand our minds to understand life, the universe and ourselves….but are quite unable to live with one another or with our living planet. ̈ (E.O Wilson).

Finally Lovelock goes farther than you could think, suggesting deep questionings as: What separates an illusion from what we perceive as reality in our minds? In this way, reminding us that our impression of the world is limited to what mind makes with what it gets from our senses.

Totally recommendable reading if you want to understand the climate change problem and its implications from a scientific point of view, and form your own informed opinion. Considering that we completely depend in natural systems, that we are depleting natural resources at a higher rate than they recover and that population is growing day by day. I recommend this book for all backgrounds.

If we are intrinsically part of Gaia, does anthropogenic climate changes exist elsewhere than in our minds? Should we feel proud if being able to win our imaginary battle versus climate change, stealing from the self-regulatory intelligence of Life? Has the life of Gaia an intrinsic finality? Find your own answers and enjoy the reading.