Friday, July 3, 2009

Lovelock's latest global heating book: A Final Warning

I like the "global heating" books by the British physicist James Lovelock; cogent, convincing, and eloquently written. The Revenge of Gaia and now The Vanishing Face of Gaia: The Final Warning.

Global heating is quoted because it is Lovelock's favored term for climate change or global warming. He advocates that adaptation is more important than trying to "defeat" or "beat" global warming.

His more salient points and data analyses tend to stand out in stark relief. For example, we are already close to the point where the feedback effects of excess greenhouse emissions exceed manmade emissions -- methane or carbon dioxide (CO2) released from permafrost in the Arctic regions, the reduced albedo effect of the melting Arctic seas (the frozen white ocean reflects back 80 percent of the sun's heat; the dark exposed ocean only 20 percent); and the dramatic loss of algae from ocean waters.

Algae does not flourish in warming seas and is now diminishing to a large extent, according to Lovelock. Algae seeds clouds with a precursor chemical called dimethyl sulfide. The clouds in turn help reflect the sun's heat back into space.

Therefore, even a giant reduction of our own emissions will have no substantive effect on preventing further warming.

The exhalations of people, their pets, and domesticated animals represent about 23 percent of manmade global-warming emissions, according to the book.

I quibble with him on two major points however. He is strongly opposed to wind turbines, particularly European installations. I favor well-planned wind implementations in the U.S., such as in northern Maine and the Texas and Dakota plains.

Lovelock is heavily in favor of nuclear energy. I believe nuclear must be a part of the new energy mix (with a reduction in the use of fossil fuels). But I confess a strong ambivalence toward nuclear, NIMBY-like; I wouldn't want my children to grow up next to a reactor.