A rapid cutback in greenhouse emissions could speed up global warming, environmentalist James Lovelock has warned in a recent lecture.
According to Lovelock, this odd occurrence might happen because of the offset of current global warming by global dimming - the 2-3ºC of cooling cause by industrial pollution, known to scientists as aerosol particles, in the atmosphere.
"Any economic downturn or planned cutback in fossil fuel use, which lessens aerosol density, would intensify the heating. If there were a 100 per cent cut in fossil fuel combustion, it might get hotter not cooler," The Telegraph quotes Lovelock, as saying.
He argues that we have set off a vicious cycle of 'positive feedback' in the earth system whereby extra heat in the atmosphere - from any source - is amplified, causing yet more warming. "We live in a fool's climate. We are damned if we continue to burn fuel and damned if we stop too suddenly," he added.
Professor Lovelock believes that six to eight billion humans will be faced with ever diminishing supplies of food and water in an increasingly intolerable climate and wildlife and whole ecosystems will become extinct.
According to Professor Lovelock's gloomy analysis, the IPCC's climate models fail to take account of the Earth as a living system where life in the oceans and land takes an active part in regulating the climate.
"When the carbon dioxide in the air exceeds 500 parts per million the global temperature suddenly rises 6ºC and becomes stable again despite
further increases or decreases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This contrasts with the IPCC models that predict that temperature rises and
falls smoothly with increasing or decreasing carbon dioxide," he says.
In spite of this grim situation, Lovelock suggests that it is still important to cut greenhouse emissions, as they might help slow the pace of global heating. It will also be best if the destruction of natural forests is lessened. "We also have to do our best to lessen our destruction of natural forests but this is unlikely to be enough and we will have to learn to adapt to the inevitable changes we will soon experience," he is quoted, as saying.
"We are not merely a disease; we are through our intelligence and communication the planetary equivalent of a nervous system. We should be the heart and mind of the Earth not its malady," Professor Lovelock adds.
Professor Lovelock's lecture comes at a time when Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary in the British government, launches the results of a public consultation on the Government's proposed Climate Change Bill. This bill is intended to cut Britain's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.