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Lovelock, AGW and democracy

James Lovelock in the Guardian

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "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."


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    Jul 20 / Govaner Don’t eco warriors drive you up the wall? Eco-Warriors, Green Alternatives, Green Living, Public Transport The carbon footprint as it is understood by pe... Image via Wikipedia This is something I hear quite a lot within my friendship circles and indeed I do tend to agree that ...

Reader Comments (50)

And no doubt while Democracy is on hold people as nutty as Lovelock will be in control.

And we should trust them to tell us when the end of the emergency is over, something clear in the case of war but wholly nebulous in climate which can go on changing for centuries.

This is the New Dark Ages they are foretelling. Resist them before it is too late.


Mar 29, 2010 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterNik

The Guardian has just put up a full transcript of the interview at
where his remarks about democracy are reported fully and are rather less shocking. It's devestating for the true believers. Most Guardian commenters are in shock.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

May I suggest the full interview transcript linked from that page. It has some robust viewpoints like

'The great climate science centres around the world are more than well aware how weak their science is. If you talk to them privately they're scared stiff of the fact that they don't really know what the clouds and the aerosols are doing. '


'I have seen this happen before, of course. We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.'

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

From the Guardian article:
" 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," "

it seems there could be some common ground...

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterper

Obama needs an excuse, does he.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill-tb

Interesting that Lovelock's friend and publisher Edward Goldsmith was once described as a 'black shirt in green trousers' by George Monbiot. Goldsmith's nephew Zac was described as ' a Green & Blacks organic chocolate bar in human form' by Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland . Jimmy Goldsmith (Zac's father) and extreme ecofasist John Aspinall plotted a military coup against the British governmnet (according to Peter Wright in the Guardian)

James Hansen doesn't like democracy either

Hansen's complaint that leaders of sovereign countries have not acceded to his demands implies a criticism of democracy

Hansen endorsed an extreme ecofascist book by Keith Farnish calling for the destruction of modern civilsation. To be fair, I doubt that Hansen has the intelligence to know what he is supporting.

Unloading essentially means the removal of an existing burden: for instance, removing grazing domesticated animals, razing cities to the ground, blowing up dams and switching off the greenhouse gas emissions machine. The process of ecological unloading is an accumulation of many of the things I have already explained in this chapter, along with an (almost certainly necessary) element of sabotage.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterE Smith


Yes, he completely demolishes modern climate science and scientists.

I'd love to see Realclimate when someone pushed this into their cage.

I remember when the Americans sent up a satellite to measure ozone and it started saying that a hole was developing over the South Pole. But the damn fool scientists were so mad on the models that they said the satellite must have a fault. We tend to now get carried away by our giant computer models. But they're not complete models. They're based more or less entirely on geophysics. They don't take into account the climate of the oceans to any great extent, or the responses of the living stuff on the planet. So I don't see how they can accurately predict the climate.


Sometimes their view might be quite right, but it might also be pure propaganda. This is wrong. They should ask the scientists, but the problem is scientists won't speak. If we had some really good scientists it wouldn't be a problem, but we've got so many dumbos who just can't say anything, or who are afraid to say anything. They're not free agents.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterE Smith

Concentrating on the democracy claim...

Suppose you gave that power (absolute power - because that is what democrarcy prevents) to people. Does James Lovelock ever envisage the day when those ruling would turn around and say, the planet is saved now, time to restore democracy?

He claims people are too stupid to save the planet. Maybe he is right, but that stupidity is precisely why democracy works.

Assholes rise to the top, they always do. Democracy is the only way to keep them in check.

Anyone who claims democracy is not working, does not understand democracy.

Just like the eco-warriors who want us to return to the dark ages but use blogs/internet/mobile phones to inform us, people who make statements about failing democracy, are parasites on society.

They denigrate democracy whilst enjoying the benefits of it.

I dislike parasites and hypocrits.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

The Obama administration could not get Congress to pass cap+trade. So it is using the EPA to enforce absurd regulations. That is overriding democracy, just as Lovelock advocates.

piece by piece...

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSuramantine

You don't have to be a fascist (black) to despise democracy. This kind of "it might be a good idea but we have no time to lose on democracy" is much more typical of the left.
The green-left being no exception.

And the left never lets actual people get in the way of its Big Idea, be it The Proletarian Revolution or Saving the Planet.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

It's just yet another interview with someone else who doesn't know the ins and outs of what's been going on in climate science. He hasn't even read the e-mails. What's the point of interviewing him? Why not interview someone who is actually on the front line, rather than all these distant observers? The closest we ever get to an interview with a skeptic is someone who isn't a skeptic but who concedes that maybe the skeptics aren't all bad.

Mar 29, 2010 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkyhook

@E Smith,

RC is already having a 'little unpleasantness' with the Guardian. I can't see this improving relations much, but kudos to them for publishing the transcript.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

Hickman doesn't see to realise that he has a major scoop on his hands when Lovelock says about CRU: "Careers have been ended by this affair". Note "careers" in the plural.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

"You don't have to be a fascist (black) to despise democracy."

That's true, but the Goldsmiths were on the extreme right. Lord Lucan was one of the Goldsmith clique from Aspinall's club in Mayfair.

Desperate Lucan dreamt of fascist coup

Murder mystery earl bought Mein Kampf and listened to Hitler's speeches

One biographer, Patrick Marnham, said: 'Seen from the Clermont Club [Lucan's favourite gambling haunt], the country was starting to resemble the less stable years of the Weimar Republic. Sir James Goldsmith began to develop his theory of "the Communist infiltration of the Western media". Over the smoked salmon and lamb cutlets, the talk turned to the pros and cons of a British military coup.'


According to former MI5 officer Peter Wright, a group of his colleagues, including Margaret Thatcher's mentor Airey Neave, began discussing a political coup. According to Wright, they believed that the Labour government had been infiltrated by the KGB and should be overthrown. He also claimed they were backed by a right-wing financier. Goldsmith always denied he put the money behind the group or discussed MI5 matters with former intelligence officers.

See also Adam Curtis's brilliant BBC documentary on the Mayfair set.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterE Smith

Climate science explained.

We can all go home now.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

After reading the piece, I will give Lovelock some credit, like all people who are professionally (not politically) good at their job, he knows when to put his ego in his pocket. And that interview is a perfect example of that.

You get the feeling that even though he would disagree, he would listen.

Some choice quotes he made.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

He's really wandered right off the reservation

PS: is Hickman still in short pants ? It's hard to tell from the photo.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Lovelock is one of three scientists appearing on the BBC trilogy Beautiful Minds.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Apart from that comment about democracy and a few others, I found much of what he said about the science and the role of sceptics and adaptation to be spot on.

A quick summary of his views:

- In favour of Adaptation - building sea defences ...
- Against the quoting of green lobbyists as opposed to scientists by media outlets like the BBC
- Against carbon trading calling it a "scam" although he admitted he was not well informed
- Said the UEA emails "disgusted him"
- Against the practice of modern science with its need for applications for funding and the consequent effect that it inhibits scientists from admitting mistakes
- Claimed there was an over-reliance on computer models
- Said that the science was very weak and this has been admitted to him by others climate scientists.

Not all bad!

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterDominic

"We need a more authoritative world. We've become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It's all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can't do that. You've got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course.

But it can't happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What's the alternative to democracy? There isn't one. But 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."

Never let a good crisis go to waste eh?

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Holy moley. And that in the Grauniad?

The comments about putting democracy on hold were chilling.

Hard to disagree with anything else, though.

Mar 29, 2010 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerBoy

Pacyauri's said something similar. What concerns me is that unpopular, autocratic governments will take statements like this as a green light to suspend what little democracy they allow to live in order to hide their power-hunger as "saving the world".

Mar 29, 2010 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrugal Dougal

There’s a bit of positive for everyone in that interview, he’s running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. I’m not to happy with his “democracy on hold” opinion, someone might take it literally, besides if the science is good enough that option would be unnecessary. Wouldn't it.

Mar 29, 2010 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

E Smith,

Good grief, I believe I went to school with that Kieth Farnish. My recollection is he had an unrealistically high opinion of his own intelligence; apparently he still knows what's best for everybody.

Mar 30, 2010 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterRafe

The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We're still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable.

David Brower in quote above describes a propaganda tactic he employed.

Similarly The AGW Prophet Lovelock is the uber hysteric, who serves the purpose of making his followers look reasonable

We've lost our fear of hellfire, but put climate change in its place

"Billions will die," says Lovelock, who tells us that he is not normally a gloomy type. Human civilisation will be reduced to a "broken rabble ruled by brutal warlords", and the plague-ridden remainder of the species will flee the cracked and broken earth to the Arctic, the last temperate spot, where a few breeding couples will survive

Mar 30, 2010 at 1:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterbrent_

Also, in war even the best democracies agree that it can become necessary to kill the innocent.

Then it becomes "bombs away".

Clearly the most effective action a scientific dictatorship could take would be to kill the roughly six billion rather unskilled people aka. non-scientists.

But then the scientists might have trouble hiring good servants. So just kill a few less and enslave enough to keep life pleasant for the elite.

Lovelock probably wouldn't endorse that. Publicly.

But the ends usually justify the means to those using the means.

Mar 30, 2010 at 1:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterKTWO

I'm beginning to wonder why anyone pays any attention at all to James Lovelock. In the pantheon of great physicists, where does he come? Nowhere much, as far as I can see. His main claim to fame is Gaia theory. And that's vague, woolly stuff. It's not science at all really. It's just an interesting idea.

I'm beginning to think he's just a self-publicist who likes to be in the public eye. It helps to sell books, after all, if you're a bit controversial. I think he maybe has a pretty good sense of which way the wind is blowing, and that it's turned in favour of sceptics a bit, and he's trimmed his sails accordingly. He's not what Tony Benn would describe as a 'signpost', but what he'd call a 'weathervane'.

Mar 30, 2010 at 3:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davis

And I thought that I was a crotchety old curmudgeon. While I agree with many of his points, I think it is best to remember that history is replete with examples of what can happen when democracy is "suspended". Starting with Peisistratus' Athens, Caesar;s Rome, Napoleon's France , Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Nazi Germany and Lenin's Russia come to mind. There are many other examples.

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. And while democracy may well have its problems, totalitarianism is far worse.

No, James, let us argue it out. I think it would be better.

Mar 30, 2010 at 3:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Such eminent if super-annuated commentators uniformly assume that when democracy is brought to crypto-fascist heel, they themselves by some revelatory dispensation will assume the mantles of philosopher-kings "during the emergency".

No-one, historian or otherwise, with the brains of a chicken would reduce power-politics to such eco-wimpish modes. Locklock and his benighted ilk would be first to fill the death-camps, while megalomaniacal narcissists like BHO proceed --as did Romania's Ceausescu-- to inflict pollution of "science fiction proportions" on their defenseless polities. Scratch a Climate Cultist and find at shallow levels, ill-concealed, a monstrous contempt for civilized norms absent any due humility outside Orwell's "smelly little orthodoxies contending for our souls."

Mar 30, 2010 at 3:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Blake

Frank Davis and the Don

Just a weathervane is apt and so are the examples of democracy when in suspension.

Biscuits to you both.

Mar 30, 2010 at 6:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterE O'Connor

I'm puzzled how Lovelock can be so certain that bad things will happen and at the same time be so dismissive of the "science" and the "scientists". Where does he get his secret supply of correct information?

Mar 30, 2010 at 7:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

"According to Wright, they believed that the Labour government had been infiltrated by the KGB

March 29, 2010 E Smith "

As we now now, actually that was true Foot was a KGB agent ... and one of the union leaders, I've forgotten his name.

Though I'm sure they had Tories too.

Mar 30, 2010 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterShona

Lovelock is just doing in effect "posterity papers" I.E. covering his ass.
This is exactly the same tactic as Monbiot in pretending he's shocked at the shenanigans of Phil Jones and CRU.
How could the AGW Prophet Lovelock, or the chief propagandist Monbiot be unaware of the shenanigans . They've been prime players in the scam from the beginning.

Mar 30, 2010 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterbrent

Can we really trust chief scientific officers?

There was a time when, if you read a scientific scare story, you tended to put it down to the over-active imagination of a redtop journalist. No longer: nowadays it is outwardly sober government scientists who spin the biggest scares. They know they can get away with it because laymen have an irrational respect for words uttered by scientists.

That much was proved by the 1963 Milgram experiment in which the Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram persuaded volunteers to administer a — simulated — potentially fatal electric shock to another human being when instructed to do so by a man in a white lab coat.

Regrettably, although AGW is the poster child for "Post Normal Science"=Sceance, it's by no means the only example

Mar 30, 2010 at 9:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterbrent

There is actually quite a lot to like in that extended interview. For example the bit about science now being basicly a nice cushy government job (i.e. indoors with no heavy lifting) and how grant funding agencies mean that admitting error is not acceptable.

Indeed to the extent that I think that democracy leads to "bread and circuses" even the democracy on hold statement isn't totally against my beliefs. The problem with non-democratic forms of governance is the lack of checks and balances, and that leads to bureaucrats who require the permanent existence of "temporary restrictions for the duration" to keep their empires growing. I'd quite like to know how the "war on climate change" will be declared over ... I don't think he's thought that bit through quite

Mar 30, 2010 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrancisT


I'd quite like to know how the "war on climate change" will be declared over ... I don't think he's thought that bit through quite

It is simple, you hand the keys to the asylum to the inmates on the promise that you will get them back...

Mar 30, 2010 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

During the last war we didn't put democracy on hold. We had a coalition government where the opposing elected members of the House took up specific roles within the government. It only lasted 5 years (the normal length of time for a government) and when peace was declared in Europe in 1945 the Labour members of the house effectively forced a new election which they subsequently won.

If we couldn't give up on democracy in WWII it is hard to see why we would give up on democracy just because the weather had got warmer.

Mar 30, 2010 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I'm inclined to the very positive view of Lovelock, even the honesty about the limits of democracy. One thing that others may not have picked up is that when two weeks back Lovelock expressed similar views at a Royal Society bash one of those present was a certain Chris Rapley. Ten days later the same paper was reporting how Rapley's new outfit, the Science Museum, was completely changing its tune from advocacy to neutrality on AGW. I presume the man from the Guardian also heard the same views from the venerable biologist and thought they might make for an interesting interview. He wasn't wrong. However it came about I've been thanking God since 14th for Lovelock's forthright intervention and I ain't stoppin' now.

As for the suspension of democracy, the main problem is that it would have to be global, unlike the darkest days of Hitler or anyone else. I think Braveheart gives us the cue there. Freedom, even if it means we are going to have to die (for we all do have to, as far as I can tell from the empirical evidence). And I think that settles it.

Mar 30, 2010 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Prof Lovelock has always had some good things to say. He says a lot of excellent things in this interview, but I cannot understand, why, if he has so little faith in many climate scientists, the data, the lack of understanding of the physical and biological processes and the computer models, he believes that warming is inevitable.

Also I don't like his comments on democracy. That's a definite no-no.

Mar 30, 2010 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

During the Second World War there were obviously some restrictions on normal freedoms but democratic activity continued to a degree which would probably surprise many people. There were some strikes as a result of industrial disputes (actually it was quite disgraceful that any workers should go on strike while British soldiers were being killed in battle) and, more importantly, there were real debates in parliament over the conduct of the war. Chamberlain lost his position as a result of one debate and Churchill too had cause to worry about his before the tide of the War turned in our favour. Contrast that with the present Parliament's attitude to events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No doubt there are politicians and bureaucrats in both Britain and the EU who would love to use climate change as an excuse to ride rough shod over our liberties. Restrictions could be imposed on non-essential flights by ordinary people (in effect rationing our holidays) while our lords and masters would jet around the world attending to important business in exotic locations!

Mar 30, 2010 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

"If you make a model, after a while you get suckered into it. You begin to forget that it's a model and think of it as the real world. You really start to believe it." That's my assessment too, having sat through a career's worth of seminars on math models. Quite revealing is the seminar speaker's typical reply to the question "Why do you say that your model is better than the previous one?" He almost never says "Because it fits the data better." He almost always says "Because it's more sophisticated."

Mar 30, 2010 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

I've always rather liked the old boy and was rather saddened when he started foaming at the mouth about CAGW, so it's nice to see he's well on the road to recovery.
Two major criticisms:
a) He seems to have swallowed the CO2 fallacy whole, saying there will be nasty events if we dump "trillions" (presumably billions, 10^12) of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This is only true if it stays there, but since the human releases are currently of the order of 5% of the natural annual flux it seems most likely that, in accord with Le Chatelier's Principle, as the concentration rises so does the rate of removal. A recent paper in Nature suggested that the observed rise in CO2 concentration might well be due largely to the observed recent (couple of centuries or so) warming, a view that fits well with the observed 4-800 year lag between temperature rises and CO2 levels. This reminds me of the bit in "Whisky Galore" when a passenger spots some ominous-looking black spots on the chart, eliciting from the skipper "If they're mines we are in trouble, but if they're what I think they are, and that's fly-shits, we're as right as rain".
b) No-one yet, either on the Grauniad or here, has pointed out that democracy was only ever practised briefly in classical Athens. What we have today is elective oligarchy. The difference is crucial - under a democracy, people vote for actions of the polis/state and then the people delegated to carry out those actions were selected (from a short-list) by lot. The people did not vote people into power to do what they like.

Mar 30, 2010 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterDisputin


"As we now now, actually that was true Foot was a KGB agent ... and one of the union leaders, I've forgotten his name"

The coup was against Harold Wilson in the 1960s. MI5 spread rumours he was a KGB agent. It resulted in his resignation in fear of his life. A BBC documentary on the plot was broadcast in 2006.

The Murdoch owned Times published a report on Foot by former KGB spy Oleg Gordiesky. Foot was an intellectual patrician who basically destroyed the traditional Labour Party, making way for Kinnoch then Murdoch/New Labour.

Mar 30, 2010 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterE Smith

In one way, JL is already right about democracy.

Non-democratic China is already starting to lead the nuclear technology race, given how the democratic west, America especially turned its back on nuclear 20 years ago, out of sheer ignorance and paranoia. The west will find it hard to catch up, the expertise having been dissipated. We haven't trained nuclear scientists any more.

Who will be the first to build a thorium nuclear reactor? US or China? Democracy or autocracy?

Mar 30, 2010 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

I love this quote from the James Lovelock article, talking about what might convince people to believe in AGW:

"Or a return of the Dust Bowl in the mid-west"

Er...except that if its something that's happened before how could that be evidence of global warming?

Mar 30, 2010 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Where does he get his secret supply of correct information?

It's in his Kool aide, Jack.

Mar 30, 2010 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Reading between the lines & remembering that he was reported by the Times as saying only the sceptics had kept the discussion "sane" this looks to me like the interview after the Guardian edited it rather than before. Very little of it actually has his quotation marks on it & of that a significant amount is about the sceptics being needed. There is a large chunk of the Guardian saying what the IPCC said, nominally explaining background. The bit about sea walls is hardly catastrophism, almost the opposite.

I suppose he did say something about democracy not working but who has not felt that occasionally - certainly not Guardian readers.

Mar 30, 2010 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Guardian sceptics in pay of big oil

New piece from the Guardian. So BH how do we get a slice? All the man hours I am building up, surely people cannot do this for free?

The only way people could possibly not believe in AGW is if they are paid not to believe.

Pretty poor/tame article actually. They will have to do better.

Mar 30, 2010 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Another new piece from the Guardian here:

It seems to have been pulled at the moment but it looks as if the "science remains intact". According to the Committee's website the embargo is due to be lifted at midnight.

Mar 30, 2010 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

It is fortunate that the world did not experience drought like in the 1930’s or a similar natural disaster in the last two years given the fanaticism with which global climate change activists pushed for changes in the political and economic systems. Some might disagree but I believe that political groups/parties that clearly advocate totalitarian political system but would use the democratic system to acquire power should not be granted a legal status in our society. I am referring to various fascists , unreformed communists, fundamental Islamists and any so called “green” or “environmental” parties or groups that advocate limits on our freedoms. Haven’t we learnt anything from history? Although the above rant sounds like musings of an old man who resents not being taken seriously the call for a totalitarian form of government is highly disturbing especially since this is not a lone voice in the West. I am glad so many picked on this part of the interview rather than the rest of the ramblings. Agree with John Blake.

Mar 31, 2010 at 1:58 AM | Unregistered Commenterbcbrowser

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