Lovelock and the Revenge of Gaia

From Webster’s dictionary

Totem n

1. a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group.
2. an object or natural phenomenon with which a family or sib considers itself closely related.
3. a representation of such an object serving as the distinctive mark of the clan or group.
4. anything serving as a distinctive, often venerated, emblem or symbol.

It was William “Stoat” Connelley, Wikipedia administrator, keeper of multiple blogs, Green Party candidate and, one hopes, assiduous climate modeller during his spare time, who gave the reason why we keep encountering a certain statistical reconstruction of past climate in response to my query

Of course, the mere fact that the “totemizing” was propagated by the IPCC, the environmental lobby and especially the authors of this blog as “the scientific consensus” should cause disinterested viewers to wonder as to who is trying to fool who.

Stoat replied:

Response: in fact the totemising has mostly been done by the skeptics.

One of the doyennes of what can fairly be described as climate alarmism would be the author James Lovelock, creator of the suspiciously anthropomorphic Gaia Hypothesis. In 2006, Lovelock published his latest polemic on the state of the world: “The Revenge of Gaia” in which all sorts of catastrophes awaited the world, including the dread spectre of Global Warming.

In the section on global warming, which comes rather incongruously after a discussion about astronauts falling into black holes, Lovelock reveals his secret weapon:

For several tears now I have had on the wall above my desk that amazing graph of the temperature of the northern hemisphere from the year 1000 to the year 2000. It was produced by the American scientist Michael Mann from a mass of data from tree rings, ice cores and coral. It is called in America, mostly by sceptics, the “Hockey Stick” graph. This is because it looks like a hockey stick lying flat with a striking end pointing upwards. I keep it in view to reinforce my arguments with sceptics of global heating and also as a reminder of how severe it will be. The graph shows the natural fluctuations of temperature, and for the first 800 years of the past millennium there is a slight but perceptable downward trend, which, if projected, points to an ice age in about 10,000 years.


Then, at the start of the industrial period, it slowly begins to rise, and with ever increasing acceleration it climbs to reach temperatures nearly 1oC above the long term average. A single degree rise temperature may seem trivial, but remember we are looking at an average for half the world, the northern hemisphere. The difference between the long term average of the graph and the ice age, 11,000 years ago, is just over 5oC. The IPCC 2003 report suggests that the line of the Hockey Stick graph might rise another 5oC during this century. This is about twice as much as the temperature change from the ice age to pre-industrial times.

Yes. Quite.

I’m sure “Stoat” will be on the phone immediately with James Lovelock to express his distaste at this totemization of the Hockey Stick at the behest of evil sceptics.

One must assume that even in the ancient year of 2006, Lovelock had never heard of McIntyre & McKitrick. Or Wegman. Or Cubasch. Or von Storch. Or … well let’s just say that its a small world Lovelock lives in.

My impression of “The Revenge of Gaia” could be summed up as “I’m too old for this to affect me but everyone much younger is basically screwed“. Yes, it’s that much fun to read.


  1. DeWitt Payne
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 2:37 PM | Permalink

    Just for fun, I will construct an argument that the Gaia hypothesis requires the burning of fossil fuels. The formation of the Himalayas by the collision of the Indian and Asian plates 40 million or so years ago created a vast new geologic sink for carbon dioxide. That caused carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to plunge to dangerously low levels. To use a favorite term of the warmers, CO2 concentrations are at an unprecedented low level. A level low enough. in fact, to threaten the existence of most life on earth by making photosynthesis impossible. Therefore, Gaia evolved humans to dig up and burn fossil fuels to return carbon dioxide concentration to safer (for life as a whole) levels.

  2. Don Healy
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 5:40 PM | Permalink

    DeWitt Payne’s comment (#1 above) brings up an interesting question. That is, is there a level of atmospheric CO2 concentration below which the process of photosynthesis becomes less efficient? I know many studies have been done regarding the effects of increasing CO2 levels on plant growth. Have any studies been done to test the low end of the spectrum?

  3. DeWitt Payne
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 6:33 PM | Permalink

    Actually, it has. The minimum level to sustain photosynthesis is about 90 ppmv, or about half the minimum during the most recent glaciations. See for example here for an abstract.

  4. David Archibald
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 9:09 PM | Permalink

    The C3 plants become much less efficient below 200 ppm CO2. Stasis at 90 ppm is one thing, but to be able to grow and set seed needs a much higher level. Yes, the Earth became dangerously close to a low-CO2 induced die off of a lot of plant groups.

  5. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 10:39 PM | Permalink

    re: #4

    Actually what we have, IMO, is a situation where plants do their best to draw down CO2 levels and the 270 or so we saw in the pre-industrial period is the minimum long-term CO2 level. But since plants are what draw it down in the first place, there’s no real danger of a die-off. It’s simply the low-end equilibrium level. When CO2 rises, either from volcanic activity, comet collisions or humans, CO2 will rise for a while and then a new equilibrium will be established until the new CO2 is taken up and sequestered.

    Failure of the warmers to understand the old CO2 level was a minimum instead of some upper equilibrium is just one of their mistakes.

  6. ET SidViscous
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 10:43 PM | Permalink

    Finally saw the Climate swindle. I thought it very good. And as much as the Gaia worshippers and the Greeneis are againt “Climate change” I’m against them and their forcing of third world types to live in Abject poverty.

    Many greenies worship the green movement (greenpeace and the WWF) as much I worship Patrick Moore. I really think he is the epitomy of the of the balance we seek.

    But I’m drunk, at least the hiccups are gone.

  7. 2dogs
    Posted Mar 10, 2007 at 11:38 PM | Permalink

    #5 “since plants are what draw it down in the first place, there’s no real danger of a die-off”

    There may have been. For a plant to be efficient at photosynthesis due to low CO2, it may have to genetically trade off other advantages such as frost tolerance. Low CO2 would reduce the number of environments plants could live in, leading to die back.

  8. Doug Z
    Posted Mar 11, 2007 at 4:23 AM | Permalink

    could somebody explain this please:
    “A single degree rise temperature may seem trivial, but remember we are looking at an average for half the world, the northern hemisphere.”
    Surely he doesn’t mean what I think he means?!

  9. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Mar 11, 2007 at 7:10 AM | Permalink

    re: #7

    Believe me, plants have had lots of time to work things out. When they have to survive glacials and interglacials within the lifespan of species, you know they’re capable of changing quickly. Yes the particular areas a given plant will be capable of living in will change, but even if a species becomes rare in a given area, it’s a likely to undergo rapid modification as to go extinct. Even a couple of degrees temperature change in 100 years means 50-100 generations for smaller plants and several generations even for trees. A varient which was at 1% or so can become dominant in 50 generations when there’s a selection pressure driving the change. Further, most species survive better in warmer weather so the primary change will be greater species diversity except where humans intervene.

  10. Posted Mar 11, 2007 at 7:22 AM | Permalink

    Lovelock was very much of a hero of mine but I think he has lost the plot. I too am ageing so I feel I am not being ‘age-ist’ when I say he seems somewhat gaga rather than Gaia. It must be said that the planetary self regulation will sort the cause of all the hysteria witout the help of credits and the Great Carbon Scam.

  11. Posted Mar 11, 2007 at 1:50 PM | Permalink

    Some phytoplankton have an interesting response to low nutrient levels, shortage of chromium and something else I forget* in particular — they switch from C3 to C4 metabolism, the enzymes for the latter not needing chromium. So, as the ocean warms and nutrient upwelling reduces, more C4 plants will grow. I don’t know if low CO2 levels have the same result, but C4 is used by land-based plants for that so I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Incidentally C4 fractionates isotopes less than C3 — the plankton will pull down an unexpectedly large amount of C13 and C14 and the atmosphere will be slightly deficient in those items. It would, of course, be easy to ignore this effect and assume that the cause of a relative increase of C12 in the atmosphere was release of low C12 signature CO2.

    Lovelock mentions in one of his earlier books that increased solar warming will eventualy force Gaia to use C4 plants to keep CO2 greenhouse low and life flourishing..

    *It’s probably at

  12. Don Healy
    Posted Mar 11, 2007 at 7:48 PM | Permalink

    The posts above lead to the question of the atmospheric concentration of CO2 when plant species first appeared on earth, and how has the concentration flucuated since then. It appears that gymnosperms first appeared about 245 million years ago, followed by the evolution of angiosperms perhaps 160 mya, although there is considerable controversy over the precise dating. If we use the broad range of 245 mya to the present it appears that CO2 concentrations were originally about 1800 ppm, reaching a high about 170 mya of 2250 ppm, then gradually declining to a level of approximately 270 ppm a century ago, before mans’ burning of fossil fuels increased the level to 384 ppm or so. Studies of numerous plant species seem to indicated that at levels of 550 ppm of CO2 growth rates of 25 to 40% above current levels can be achieved. At CO2 concentration below 150 to 200 ppm, various plant functions begin to shut down in many species, and by 90 ppm photosynthesis is severely limited.

    From the perspective of our vegetative neighbors, it doesn’t appear that moderately increasing CO2 levels are of much concern, and perhaps we will find that CO2 levels are not the primary driver of climate change from the human perspective either.

  13. David Archibald
    Posted Mar 11, 2007 at 8:04 PM | Permalink

    Re 5, it is not necessarily plants alone that drew down the CO2 level. With the breakup of Pangea and Gondwana, we have a lot more continental shelves than we used to, and there are big, Tertiary-aged carbonate wedges on these shelves. Once CO2 has been fixed into these shelves, it is not coming out again until it is subducted. Remember that the Earth started out with 200,000 ppm CO2, and it got to almost one thousandth of that initial level.

  14. gb
    Posted Mar 12, 2007 at 6:18 AM | Permalink

    Re # 9: Do you really think that the number of species increases if the temperature increases a few degrees in the next 100 years???

  15. Gary
    Posted Mar 12, 2007 at 7:22 AM | Permalink

    #9 and #14: Divergence of one species into two (by definition, a point at which they can no longer inter-breed and produce fertile offspring) in the wild probably takes a lot more than 100 years. Also, temperature change alone is unlikely to produce speciation. Geographic isolation is a more likely cause. Members of a species tend to be distributed along continuous temperature gradients so isolation probably would occur only in rare geographic circumstances. Even under severe selective pressure, 50-100 generations may not be enough to genetically isolate populations into new species, although it may be enough to significantly increase the chances of eventual speciation. We’ve had domesticated plants and animals under such pressure for roughly this long and many still inter-breed (think dogs and cats); the genetics of cereal grasses OTOH have been manipulated for perhaps 10,000 generations and definitely show speciation.

  16. Jeff Norman
    Posted Mar 12, 2007 at 8:42 AM | Permalink


    What do you think he means?

  17. MarkW
    Posted Mar 12, 2007 at 9:26 AM | Permalink

    He did say species diversity, not species divergence.
    It could also mean that new (existing elsewhere) species move into a region.

  18. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Mar 12, 2007 at 9:27 AM | Permalink

    From my personal research, Lovelock is either admired by, overlaps with or is even part of a subculture who seem to believe in massively negative population growth and extreme “deep ecology.” There are subsets who are quite enamored with Sangerism / eugenics. Also a few Peak Oilers overlapping as well. Here is a typical (albeit at this point a bit dated, but do note the many reference links, some of Lovelock’s material included) site:

  19. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Mar 12, 2007 at 2:47 PM | Permalink

    re: #14,17.

    Mark has it right. I meant increased diversity from more plant species being able to live in a given area. What might be confusing is that I also mentioned how fast a species, which is passing through a bottleneck, can adapt to changing conditions. This normally doesn’t come from either mutation or speciation. Instead the ratios of particular alleles will change. And this can normally only happen in subpopulations which have severely reduced populations; because of the Hardy-Weinburg equilibrium. True, if there is a strong selection pressure for or against a particular allele, its ratio can change even in a large population, but it’s not usual.

  20. JP
    Posted Mar 13, 2007 at 9:39 AM | Permalink

    Didn’t someone write recently that there is a level of diminishing returns when considering CO2
    concentrations and resultant temperature increases -kind of like the Laffer Curve concerning tax
    rates and tax revenues? The way most scientists talk, the surface temperature increases resulting from
    GHG is a linear function; you double the amount of CO2, you have a corresponding increase x in the amount
    of temp increases. Has anyone read the opposite, that at an observer would see the largest changes in
    temperature with respects to GHG increases at the beginning, but over time the rate of change actually decreases
    as GHG concentrations continue thier climb?

  21. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Mar 13, 2007 at 12:24 PM | Permalink

    #20. It’s usually regarded as a logarithmic relationship (e.g. IPCC TAR).

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