Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lovelock's environmentalist sabotage

James Lovelock, the environmentalist and deep ecologist who popularized the Gaia Hypothesis, is as infuriating as he is fascinating. I’m still not quite sure what to make of this man, but my gut instinct tells me he's a bit off his rocker.

A few months ago he grabbed attention by announcing the beginning of the end for Earth and human civilization. In his Independent Online article, Lovelock argued that we recently passed the point of no return in regards to global warming and that the only thing to do now is to maximize the time we have left before extinction. "We have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act," he says, "and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can. Civilisation is energy-intensive and we cannot turn it off without crashing, so we need the security of a powered descent."

I offered a rebuttal to this perspective, but I recently discovered another article of his that also has me shaking my head.

Back in 2001, Lovelock told the Telegraph that we need nuclear power. He also asked the British government to revive atomic energy as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. He went on to downplay the Chernobyl disaster, claiming that it was not the industrial catastrophe that so many people made it out to be. He claimed that only 45 people died at Chernobyl, a figure that was recently blown out of the water by Greenpeace who now claim that the total figure will eventually exceed 93,000.

Further, Lovelock noted his delight in the fact that diverse wildlife had once again returned to the 30km area immediately surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear facility. This is the area, of course, that remains off-limits due to radiation. “The wildlife of Chernobyl know nothing about radiation and do not fear it,” he says, “That they might live a little less long is of no great consequence to them.”

Inspired by this shining and radioactive example of passive environmental remediation, Lovelock argues that we should actually recreate similar situations elsewhere: “I have wondered if the small volumes of nuclear waste from power production should be stored in tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by greedy developers.”

Now that’s a hardcore solution to the global warming problem if I ever heard one.

Spread radioactive material around to keep the pesky humans out.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Clearly, Lovelock has no faith that the Establishment will ever acquire the resolve to deal with ongoing environmental problems. Rather than work to see certain areas declared off limits, or see that moratoriums and treaties are established and enforced, Lovelock instead promotes a curious call for coercive environmentalist sabotage.

As for nuclear energy itself, “The worst that could happen, if Chernobyls became endemic, is that we lived a little less long in a mildly radioactive world,” he says, “To me this is preferable to the loss of our hard-won civilisation in a greenhouse catastrophe.”

Although I could be wrong, I find his concern for our "hard-won" civilization to be disingenuous. The problem with many gaianists is their disregard for the individual, whether they be human or non-human. Lovelock's lack of interest for animal welfare in radioactive zones and his dangerous call for the spread of radioactive materials shows that his concern is for the abstract super-organism and not for the individual creatures themselves.

One could counter-argue that by looking out for the health of the entire planet he is expressing concern for the individual. If there's no habitable planet, after all, how can there be individuals?

At the same time, however, I cannot help but think that the road to an entire array of personal hells is paved by Lovelock's good intentions. Upholding concern over conceptual entities rather than tangible living creatures is a moral failing and a grave mistake. Sustaining life at the expense of an acceptable quality to that life is an end that is not justified by the means.

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