Lovelock speaks. But I wish he wouldn’t

A singularly unhelpful intervention from James Lovelock of Gaia fame (or notoriety). The Guardian reports –

‘I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change,’ said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. ‘The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.’

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is ‘modern democracy’, he added. ‘Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.’

Oh really. I don’t seem to recall Lovelock’s previous analysis of the larger-scale but little-understood and even less acknowledged structures of human activity – economic systems, global technologies, ideologies – that actually provide the basis for human ‘intelligence’ as it is conventionally understood. In that rather conspicuous absence, what exactly are Lovelock’s qualifications for having such a lovingly quoted opinion? The Gaia theory, which until the environment came back to the forefront of our collective consciousness, was treated by most scientists as a somewhat quaint, if not downright silly, model of planetary processes. And even now that planetary processes are under discussion, it’s still striking how seldom Lovelock’s theories make it into scientific discourse.

Of course, given that almost all other scientists are equally lacking in any convincing understanding of how human social and economic systems work, they are no more qualified than Lovelock to pronounce on either human ‘intelligence’ or the processes and systems that driven environmental change. But at least national newspapers aren’t asking them their opinions.

More that all that, it is about time we stopped treating people as authoritative just because they have the job ‘scientist’. It’s a job that is typically highly specialised, and having read a fair number of our most prominent scientists’ accounts of our present predicament, it does not strike me that their opinions about the situation as a whole are particularly scientific. No matter how brilliant the physicist or biologist, they are no better qualified than me to pronounce on economic systems, the power of ideologies, and especially not any but the most technical aspects of solutions to our problems.

Meanwhile, putting democracy ‘on hold’ is not only a very bad idea but precisely the opposite of what is needed. If there are any forces that will actively resist takintg the necessary steps to deal with our environmental problems it is the entrenched corporate forces of the economy and politicl system. Closing down democracy would only strengthen, indeed perpetuate their stranglehold over economic, political and so environmental policy.

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