David Tebbutt, Teblog

Well, Earth Day was not the smartest day to jump on a plane to California to, among other things, meet some folk to talk about environmental sustainability. Still, I made up for it a bit by reading a couple of environmental books. Except, of course, they were made from mashed up trees. Oh dear.

One of the books was James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia – a couple of years old now, but worth a read. The other was Nigel Lawson’s book, hot off the press, called An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. An interesting juxtaposition of reading materials, to say the least.

Let’s just say that the two men aren’t even close to agreement when it comes to global warming, or global heating, as Cameron calls it. Lawson can’t see what the problem is, even when he takes scientists at their most pessimistic. Lovelock, on the other hand, is convinced we’re on the cusp of dramatic and devastating warming, with all of its attendant consequences for humankind.

Although they have different perspectives on the degree danger we face, both agree that something’s going on and both think that some action makes sense. Broadly speaking, Lovelock wants all hands to the pumps while Lawson believes that we should behave in a more measured fashion.

But, having said that, I was quite astonished at how much they agree with each other. Not least when it comes to nuclear power. Both regard it as the most sensible way to deliver the power we need while minimising the damage to the environment. This seems to be an emerging theme whichever way I turn these days.

Lovelock tends to be quite respectful of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) while Lawson considers it far too biased for a supposedly objective organisation. He has fun with its estimates for global warming and wonders whether the massive amounts of money and inconvenience to today’s population can possibly be justified by the anticipated benefits.

In one example, he uses the scientists’ own best and worst case scenarios to show that, in one hundred years, the developing world will either be 8.5 or 9.5 times better off than it is now. Given that both outcomes are billed as equally likely, he wonders what level of sacrifice today would make the higher outcome worth pursuing.

Lawson’s book has been diligently researched but he focuses on the narrow issue of global warming. Lovelock takes a more holistic view, essentially urging us to look after the planet, so that it will look after us. Lawson doesn’t think that his book will ’shake the faith of the true believers’, but it certainly contributes some reason to the debate. As, indeed, does Lovelock’s.

Either book may jar with your present way of looking at things but, if we don’t think about this stuff from multiple viewpoints, we’ll never arrive at an informed opinion. We’ll simply be believers of one position or another.

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