Tuesday 6 March 2007

The end of the world is nigh, maybe

The distinguished scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock is 87. This at least guarantees that his concern for the future of the planet is a pretty selfless one. On the other hand, it may have made him fairly relaxed about any long term health risks, when he kindly offered to store all the country’s nuclear waste in his back garden.

Prof Lovelock makes an impressive scientific case for nuclear power, and an equally telling and entertaining one against wind farms, which he considers to be comprehensively useless. He likens their proponents to the Cromwellians who vandalised churches, with Green fanaticism being the latest manifestation of that ancient and deplorable desire to seek out beautiful things and smash them up.

For a man of his age, the Professor is a remarkably assiduous and articulate media performer, and has occupied a fair bit of airtime lately as he has promoted the new, paperback version of his book The Revenge of Gaia. Sales of the hardback were perhaps not helped when he told one interviewer that the subtitle “and how we can still save humanity” had been dreamt up by his publisher’s marketing department and that he actually believed we were all doomed. Although maybe a few breeding pairs of humans might survive in the Arctic.

If you’ve not been keeping up, Gaia theory sees the whole planet as a self-regulating, living organism, which has been thrown fatally off balance by human industrial activity over the last century or so. The consequence is potentially catastrophic climate change.

I heard the Professor shed an interesting new light on this in a radio interview the other day. With unusual optimism, he suggested that the UK might actually be comparatively lightly affected by global warming. The real challenge was that large parts of Continental Europe would become uninhabitable, and the displaced would need new homes. So the British Government should be preparing for a doubling or trebling of the population, just to accommodate other EU citizens who will be entitled to come here. That is before one starts to worry about the other, potentially huge, mass migrations from Africa and Asia.

In a generation or two, our descendants may find themselves in the same position as survivors in a frail lifeboat, after the wreck of an enormous ocean liner. And they will be faced with the age-old dilemma: should they try to pull as many people aboard as possible, even at the risk of swamping the craft, or start whacking them over their heads with the oars?

It might be tempting for a future government to welcome, say, a couple of million of the more intelligent, attractive and industrious Italians, while encouraging an equivalent number of the indigenous underclass to take an extended walk off a short pier. But it is hard to see how they could accomplish that without massive civil unrest.

The last time these islands were threatened by invasion, in 1940, we had both the conventional armed forces and the will to resist. Today, I suspect, we have neither. Yet the sort of influx that is postulated as a result of global warming would be much more far-reaching in its effects than any Nazi military occupation. Britain, as any of us know it, would cease to exist.

In the light of some of the other apocalyptic theories, that might well be the least of our worries, and I am studiously not offering an opinion on what our posterity should do if and when millions of would-be settlers start arriving. But you’ve got to admit that it’s a fascinating subject for debate, and one that certainly puts quite a number of current political issues in perspective. Whether it’s asylum seekers, integration, or the Chancellor’s politically convenient crusade to promote Britishness: to go back to that ocean liner analogy, they’re all just tidying up the deckchairs while the band rehearses Nearer My God to Thee.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

No comments: