James Lovelock admits being 'alarmist' over climate change
Gaia theorist admits he made a 'mistake' but insists he is not a climate denier
JAMES LOVELOCK, the originator of the Gaia theory, has admitted he and other environmentalists such as Al Gore have been "alarmist" about climate change.
Lovelock, who in the 1970s put forward the idea that the earth and its organisms are a self-regulating entity, has been a leading proponent of the idea that climate change will prove catastrophic to the human race. But in an interview with MSNBC, he accepted that view was a "mistake".
In 2006, while publicising his book The Revenge of Gaia, he told The Independent: "Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."
In his most recent book, 2009's The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning: Enjoy it While You Can, Lovelock said it was likely that a remnant of human civilisation would survive climate change on 'lifeboats' - islands at high latitudes such as Japan, Britain and Tasmania.
Only two years ago he said democracy might have to be sacrificed if we are to make a meaningful attempt to tackle climate change.
Now, Lovelock, 92, has said he regrets some of his more headline-grabbing statements, and those of his environmentalist contemporaries, such as Al Gore, who made the film An Inconvenient Truth.
"The problem is we don't know what the climate is doing," he explained. "We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books - mine included - because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn't happened.
"The climate is doing its usual tricks. There's nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now."
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising, he said, but average temperatures since the millennium have stayed "almost constant".
Lovelock believes there is still hope because we do not understand all the variables in play. "[The ocean] could make all the difference between a hot age and an ice age," he said.
Clearly aware of the potential for his statements to be misused by people with axes to grind, he was careful to state, when asked whether he is a climate sceptic: "It depends what you mean by a sceptic. I'm not a denier... We will have global warming, but it's been deferred a bit."
Lovelock's more nuanced opinion will form the basis of a new book to be published next year, which will explain how humans can change their behaviour in order to "help regulate the Earth's systems".