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The James Lovelock Bashers

By Keith Kloor
Apr 26, 2012 6:35 AMNov 19, 2019 9:35 PM


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It's a testament to James Lovelock's standing in the science world that one phone conversation can trigger a media tidal wave. In case you're just tuning in to the news, Lovelock has rejected his own prophecy on global warming, which he previously believed would soon kill off most of humanity and "leave the few survivors living a Stone Age existence." Now Lovelock is saying that he a got bit ahead of himself on that climate apocalypse stuff. According to MSNBC:

He [Lovelock] said he still thought that climate change was happening, but that its effects would be felt farther in the future than he previously thought. "We will have global warming, but it's been deferred a bit," he said.

The upshot of all this is that Lovelock has chastised himself and others for being overly "alarmist" (in his case, that would be an understatement). The reaction to Lovelock's walkback has raised many eyebrows. A few are lauding him, as Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle does here:

I'm sure some people will take this opportunity to attack Lovelock, and climate science in general. That is wrong-headed and as misguided as blind alarmism. Alarmism is no worse than the climate-change-is-a-hoax mentality. Lovelock has done a real service here by putting a dent in the attacks of the world-is-ending-now mentality of climate change activists. As you may recall I have lamented the fact that in the present-day climate advocacy wars, reality is often the first casualty. In stepping back from his over-the-top alarmism, Lovelock has struck a blow for science and for reality.

Actually, the people who are bashing (more like ridiculing) him--get out your irony meter--are some of the biggest climate alarmists--the ones who endlessly warn of "hell and high water" and "civilization-threatening climate disruption," unless there is immediate action on climate change. Why would climate activists be badmouthing Lovelock? This headline from Media Matters goes a long way in explaining why:

Lovelock gives conservatives another reason to drop climate science

In other words, by saying that climate change is not the doomsday threat he thought it was--far from it--Lovelock is giving ammunition to the climate activist enemy. So that's why Joe Romm, elbows out, asserts that Lovelock

has now overshot in the other direction of climate science confusion and just keeps peddling nonsense.

Funny, but when I go back and read the articles on Lovelock when he was in full apocalyptic mode, I'm not seeing his colleagues wave him off as a nonsense peddler. In a long 2006 Washington Post profile, Lovelock says:

Our global furnace is out of control. By 2020, 2025, you will be able to sail a sailboat to the North Pole. The Amazon will become a desert, and the forests of Siberia will burn and release more methane and plagues will return.

If you read the whole WaPo article, you won't walk away with the impression that scientists are rolling their eyes at Lovelock. In fact, the reporter says:

What's perhaps as intriguing are the top scientists who decline to dismiss Lovelock's warning. Lovelock may be an outlier, but he's not drifting far from shore. Sir David King, science adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair, saluted Lovelock's book and proclaimed global warming a far more serious threat than terrorism. Sir Brian Heap, a Cambridge University biologist and past foreign secretary of the Royal Society, says Lovelock's views are tightly argued, if perhaps too gloomy.

Let's move on to another respectful profile (from 2007), this one in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell:

If such predictions were coming from anyone else, you would laugh them off as the ravings of an old man projecting his own impending death onto the world around him. But Lovelock is not so easily dismissed...Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, credits Lovelock with inspiring him to pledge billions of dollars to fight global warming. "Jim is a brilliant scientist who has been right about many things in the past," Branson says. "If he's feeling gloomy about the future, it's important for mankind to pay attention."

And there's the rub. If Lovelock isn't feeling so gloomy anymore, which is what his statements to MSBC suggest, then that's not a message that climate activists want taken seriously. What's amusing about all this business is that the fear-mongering language and imagery of climate doom is pretty much standard fare for the climate activist community--and has been for some time. So it's a bit rich of some activists to now trash Lovelock because he's decided he went overboard with his own claims about climate catastrophe. I'd take his critics more seriously if they reigned in their own exaggerated, hyperbolic rhetoric.

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