James Lovelock, Democracy, and Human Fate

James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia Theory, drew a baleful stare from Instapundit this morning for claiming, as Glenn put it, that “We need to get rid of ‘obstructions’ like democracy to deal with global warming,” in an interview for the Guardian.  Dr. Lovelock’s actual remarks weren’t quite so blunt:

Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.

In fact, the Guardian article left me with a rather favorable impression.  I don’t take Lovelock’s Gaia theory seriously, but it’s really more an expression of the man’s “spirituality” than an attempt at rigorous science.  Apparently he was grasping for some kind of straw to fill his need for something “greater than himself,” but that’s not an uncommon human foible, even among people as intelligent as Lovelock.  And he is intelligent.  One can tell that by the fact that he thinks outside of the box.  He’s not wearing any of the usual ideological straightjackets.  Consider, for example, the last three paragraphs of the article:

Lovelock says the events of the recent months have seen him warming to the efforts of the “good” climate sceptics: “What I like about sceptics is that in good science you need critics that make you think: ‘Crumbs, have I made a mistake here?’ If you don’t have that continuously, you really are up the creek. The good sceptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours. You need sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic.”

Lovelock, who 40 years ago originated the idea that the planet is a giant, self-regulating organism – the so-called Gaia Theory – added that he has little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – “I felt reluctant to pry” – but that their reported content had left him feeling “utterly disgusted”.

“Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science,” he said. “I’m not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It’s the one thing you do not ever do. You’ve got to have standards.”

Obviously, he’s not a hidebound ideologue busily embellishing his “climate denier” demon.  Rather, he’s apparently made a conscientious attempt to think a few things through without balking at the preconceived shibboleths he encountered along the way.  As we gather from Instapundit’s stern disapproval, one such shibboleth was democracy.

It’s difficult to deny that democracy has its faults.  As Winston Churchill put it, ” No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.  Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”  In the end, it may turn out to be a self-annihilating form of government.  In our own day we see it incapable of resisting infiltration by people whose culture may be hostile to its existence, or of resisting the rise of a bloated state power whose coexistence with Liberty is out of the question. 

Other than that, it is also true that, as Lovelock claims, democracies are in the habit of setting aside their political ideals in time of war.  If the effects of global warming become as severe as a major war, the overriding imperative of survival may, indeed, require that “democracy be put on hold.”  If so, the question will become, “Who gets to play dictator?”  I personally would prefer the CEO of some oil company to a coalition of Greenpeace, PETA, and Code Pink, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. 

Lovelock makes another comment in the article that I find spot on:

I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change. The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.

His interviewer bowdlerizes this to ” Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades,” in typical journalistic fashion, but the statement is, nonetheless, true.  We are not intelligent enough to avoid the chaos and catastrophe that will surely be our future lot in one form or another if we remain as we are.  We can try to avoid the worst by taking control of our own evolution, or we can sit and wait.  Evolution will not stand still, regardless.  Perhaps the result will be the same.  Assuming we don’t annihilate ourselves completely, above average intelligence will surely be a factor in deciding who will survive the wrath to come.  If we prove incapable of making ourselves smarter, nature will do it for us.  It will just be a great deal more painful.


Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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