William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

“Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change” Lovelock

James Lovelock knows of what he speaks: personal experience allows him to say that a lot of humans aren’t that bright.

But Lovelock forgets that while there are many—half!—who are below average on the IQ scale, it takes an academic to say something really stupid.

Take the Gaia hypothesis—now elevated to “theory”—Lovelock’s creation. Life forms a complex web of interactions, Lovelock says. Has anyone in all of history ever disagreed with that? It is trivially true, and noticing it is not the least worthy of praise. Yet several grant-awarding agencies still gave Lovelock a hearty pat on the back after he gave that banal observation a cute name.

James Lovelock and his pal Gaia

And a healthy dose of pre-civilized mysticism, without which Gaia theory would never have caught on. The Earth itself is “alive”; it is one self-regulating organism, says our sage. In which, Gaiaists (Gaiaers? Gaiaphytes?) say, humans are a “cancer” that ma Earth would like to rid itself of. Etc., etc.

Since it is Lovelock’s comment about human ignorance that is our subject today, it is well to point out that Lovelock himself lacks the mental capacity to see the inconsistencies in his theory, despite being given plenty of time to notice them, and being given the able assistance of many critics.

Take the statement “humans are too stupid to take care of themselves.” This implies that Lovelock has somehow discovered a way to become non-human. By which I mean, he has found a way to circumvent his humanity, to rise above it. He has found Enlightenment! He is Earth’s Prophet!

There is no avoiding this simple conclusion. Lovelock must not be one of us. How else can he know that we “[h]umans on the Earth behave in some ways like a pathogenic micro-organism, or like the cells of a tumor or neoplasm.” Gaia must have told him. He could not have figured it out as a human because, as a human, he would be part of the organism.

For example, the heart doesn’t know it’s a heart. It doesn’t even know it’s a mass of muscle tissue. It doesn’t know anything. It’s just one piece of a body. And it cannot decide whether the body would be better off without it. Neither can a cancer cell. It, too, is just mindless tissue. In order to judge it harmful, we have to be above it, to be something greater than cancer.

Now, it is logically possible that Lovelock has become something greater than human. The universe, as it has been said, operates in a mysterious way. He might be the key to our future. It is also logically possible that the Gaia theory is true and that we human beings are a cancer.

But if so, Gaia is one sick planet. She’s as cancer-prone as a four-pack-a-day smoker. Tumorous species are regularly cropping up, and just as regularly being purged from the body Earth. And talk about fickle? How about the radical cosmetic surgery Gaia did to herself 250-million years ago? The old Permian look was out; Triassic was in. So she ruthlessly carved out 90% of her own species! This was way before George W. Bush was elected to any office.

Think I’m joking? Prophet Lovelock himself wrote The Revenge of Gaia. Although it sounds like something that would have ran on channel 50 during Monster-Movie week, it is instead a book which lovingly details how our Earth goddess will pick us humans off, one by one. John: “I think I just saw the Earth move.” Sally: “Don’t be silly. We’re invincible.”

But I’ll tell you what. I agree with Lovelock about one thing. Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change. The climate will change and there is nothing we can do about it.

Forget that we’re powerless to quiet Earth’s orbital variations, or to quell the as-yet unknown cycles of old Sol, the very fact of our existence is enough to change the climate. No amount of intelligence can change this. Every breath we take, or movement we make alters the climate. Not by much, and a lot less than the sun does even when it isn’t trying. But alter it we do.

So what? Do I win an award for this commonplace observation? All I have to do is name it and success is mine! Titles and catchy names aren’t my specialty, unfortunately, so the floor is now open for suggestions.

It’s national Pass On The Briggs month here at wmbriggs.com. If your interpretation of this phrase is on the generous side, email a link of this page to a friend who hasn’t been here before. The best kind of friend is one who has need of a statistician and who has a lot of money.

20 Comments

  1. We’re obviously too stupid to decide whether to buy insurance(or not), what schools we want to send our children to, if we want to salt our food or not, whether we want to own a firearm and protect ourselves or hunt, whether we want to go to a restaurant that allows smoking, if I want to give my kid a pop or not, whether I want to live in a mud hut or a mansion…well you get the idea. The obvious conclusion of this idiots ravings and those of the Liberal elite in Western society is that they know better and we had best shut up and take it.

  2. I’m not sure about But I’ll tell you what. I agree with Lovelock about one thing. Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change. The climate will change and there is nothing we can do about it. If it’s our stupidity that’s at issue shouldn’t we say, “The climate will change and we’ll never think of a way to stop it”?

    So how about, the “Fleas on the Dog” hypothesis?

    Rich (putting the “sap” in “homo sapiens”).

  3. Lovelock isn’t a complete loss – he says that AGW skeptics are performing a useful task, admits that the factions in the AGW debate are too “tribal”, and says that he was “disgusted” by the Climategate fiasco. On the other hand, he’s the one responsible for the whole “Gaia hypothesis” so beloved by Greenpeace types, so I’m not going to give him an unqualified passing mark.

  4. The following is a commentary piece at Rasmussen about the fluidity of so-called “stubborn facts”:

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/political_commentary/commentary_by_tony_blankley/frustrating_stubborn_facts

  5. Suppose the Gaia hypthesis is corrrect. The biota of the earth regulate the environment and keep it near optimal. Cataclysmic climate change would be impossible.

  6. I’m not sure I would agree with this…

    “We need a more authoritative world. We’ve become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It’s all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can’t do that. You’ve got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course.

    But it can’t happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What’s the alternative to democracy? There isn’t one. But 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.”

    In a world were trust is as common as personal responsibility, this will not fly.

  7. Must be too stupid to cause it as well.

    Sadly this wingnut needs to retire himself. This old fool is part of past generation that has failed human kind.

  8. You could try naming your theory something really radical and almost unheard of in climate science eg.

    “Climate a common sense approach”

    From what I have seen that would be groundbreaking!

  9. As a now regular reader of your blog I am sorry that my first comment here should be a criticism! Whilst I don’t agree with Lovelock’s “environmentalism” (i.e. the political and behavioural inferences and “solutions” that are arrived at) I think you do the Gaia hypothesis a disservice.

    The Earth-as-Organism motif has as far as I’m aware only been used by Lovelock in his discussions on the theory as a crude analogy – it seems to always get left to others to get carried away with it.

    Lovelock is not only a hand-waving greeny politico – he invented the electron capture detector and was involved in the Viking-era search for life on Mars (not *those* Vikings of course!). As I understand it, he started thinking about Gaia as a way of trying to work out how to detect life on other planets – basically by searching for atmospheric signatures of life. As you say, this kind of observation may be “trivially true” but he seemed to be the first to notice it and develop it.

    Did everyone else regard the interconnectedness of life, and crucially how this affected the abiotic environment, as so trivial as unworthy of comment? No, the Gaia hypothesis was heavily criticised and Lovelock rebutted these criticisms with the Daisyworld thought experiment. This kind of theoretical defence is not required of people who make trivially true statements.

    Casual condemnations of all his work because he has rather gone off the rails (politically he was always off the rails – pacifist Labour voter I believe!) do him and your readers a disservice and blind people to one of the truly interesting new ways of looking at the world that we have developed in recent times.

    Apart from that – love the blog! And I will particularly be looking forward to more R stuff!

    Thanks,
    Pete

  10. Lovelock sits at his desk knitting intellectual doilies. It must anger him to no end that inventors like Ron Popeil can invent the pocket fisherman and come to more acclaim.

    If Lovelock only knew how the average American thought about him he might have a heart attack. Like so many intellectuals he has sidelined himself into a scientific area that is trending into psuedo science.

  11. “Gaiaers? Gaiaphytes?”

    Gaiasers — regularly emitting steam.

  12. Years ago I enjoyed playing with the old Mac game, SymEarth. If you poked at the earth (clicked the mouse) enough it would let out a whimper or a cry. Today’s post makes me want to dig that disk back out and start poking.

  13. Feebilia Impotencia Pathetica

    Locklock is a neo-Lamarckian. Every challenger to get in the ring with Darwin has had his block knocked off. Locklock is no exception. The amusing thing is: Darwin has been deceased for over 100 years and he still kicked Locklock’s caboose.

  14. “The Revenge of Gaia”. AKA “Revenge of the Killer Planet”. Coming to a movie theater near you shortly.

  15. I find it very ironic that you start the article by saying:

    “But Lovelock forgets that while there are many—half!—who are below average on the IQ scale, it takes an academic to say something really stupid”

    which is in fact “really stupid”, as not necessarily half (!) the population has below average IQ. That would be the median you’re looking for.

    (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

  16. “Gaia” is rather like Le Chatelier’s Principle with knobs on. Or, since it involves biology, nobs on.

  17. Lovelock: Nuclear advocate

    Chernobyl no big deal. Use “high level nuclear waste” as home heating fuel.

    cheers
    brent

    Greens guru offers to bury nuclear waste in his garden

    Prof James Lovelock, the scientist who inspired the Greens, yesterday offered to store high level nuclear waste on his land if it would help to revive the fortunes of atomic energy in Britain.
    snip

    “I have offered to take the full output of a nuclear power station in my back yard,” said Prof Lovelock, who lives on the border between Devon and Cornwall.
    “I would be glad to have it. I would use it for home heating. It would be a waste not to use it.”
    http://tinyurl.com/ydtofab

    Should Britain go nuclear?
    http://tinyurl.com/yzlb7ol

    The mystery of Chernobyl
    A bitter dispute is raging over whether the fallout zone is a wasteland or wonderland. Now, a team of scientists is heading back into the contaminated area to find out the truth

    The implication is that if wildlife can return so soon, nuclear radiation – and nuclear power – might be less dangerous than has been suggested. James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia theory, has even written that the natural world “would welcome nuclear waste as the perfect guardian against greedy developers… the preference of wildlife for nuclear-waste sites suggests that the best sites for its disposal are the tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by hungry farmers and developers”.
    http://tinyurl.com/mutvlm

    Nuclear propaganda 101
    Beware the Demon CO2. World about to end (due to Climate Change.) Amen!

  18. James Lovelock Says This Time We’ve Pushed the Earth Too Far

    Lovelock’s shaking his head before you complete the litany. How many people died, he asks. A few hundred? The radiation exclusion zone around Chernobyl is the lushest and most diverse zone of flora and fauna in Eurasia.
    http://tinyurl.com/yj89mft

    Ecolo: Nuclear advocacy site
    http://www.ecolo.org/

    Lovelock: Ecolo’s Mascot
    http://www.ecolo.org/lovelock/

  19. Briggs

    1 April 2010 at 8:46 am

    Ramzi Elias,

    Almost. IQ is defined to be normally distributed, so the average, mean, and median are all the same point.

    Pete Collins,

    You’re right. Lovelock has said some sane things and has done some good work. But his views have become increasingly weird and mystical. And like I said—or rather hinted—in the main article, the views of Gaia as an organism never consider that organism before humans arrived. Gaiaism therefore is more a religion than a science.

  20. Lovelock’s theory is trivially true William .
    Gaia , defined as the dynamical system spatially bounded by the upper ionosphère , lives .
    And it is indeed a whole because it is a well known property of many non linear PEDs that you can’t separate the variables .
    What’s more , the system being in deterministic chaos , it lives only in an extremely small but organised part of the dynamical states among all those energetically authorised , pretty much like an animal body (brain included) does .
    As long as you supply reasonable amounts of energy in it , what our Sol will loyally do for the next 5 billions of years , Gaia will choose imaginative and creative ways to dissipate that energy .
    After 5 billions of years Sol will supply unreasonable amounts of energy so Gaia will decide to dissipate this energy by becoming plasma what is of course a reasonable thing to do (you would do the same thing too) but leads to a rather poor and boring life afterwards .
    .
    Is it necessary to isolate and consider an arbitrarily defined minor subsystem of Gaia which is the mankind ?
    First it is not really feasible because as we have seen the variables don’t separate in a chaotic system .
    Second this subsystem is just an option .
    Admittedly it is an interesting option and that’s surely why Gaia was bound to think of it .
    Like animals found the option of a brain an appealing one , Gaia found the option of mankind a good insurance .
    Indeed what’s the problem from the Gaia’s point of view ?
    It’s that look at it as you want , life after 5 billions years will suck if she doesn’t do something about it .
    But mankind considered as a brainlike organ opens fascinating perspectives of totally new unpredictible behaviours .
    Given enough time it can dismantle Jupiter and throw the hydrogen in the Sol .
    It can create a black hole just for the fun of it .
    Odds are great that it will do something that will extend the interesting part of Gaia’s life beyond those mere 5 billions of years . It costs nothing to try it anyway .
    .
    And look how brilliant and insightfull Gaia was !
    She didn’t wait untill the last moment ! She hurried the development of this organ so that if something goes wrong , she can redo another attempt at least 10 times .
    “Ah too much water and a too high breeding rate for a landbound species . How stupid to have forgotten that . Besides the morons worry about things they can do nothing about like climate instead of terraforming Mars .” will she say .
    “OK let’s feign a global warming so that they self destruct their sciences and economies . Then I’ll think of a creative highly selective plague to finish them off . I guess it won’t take more than a couple of hundreds of millions of years to have a go on a brand new superintelligent dolphinkind .”
    “I have always found the dolphins sexier anyway . And should they not work either , there is still that amusing idea to tweak wasps DNA so that they develop an advanced technological waspkind in only 300 millions years ….”

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