Heroes of the Environment 2007 — Time magazine

Time cover

This week the International editions of Time are doing their annual “celebrating heroes” thing, praising people making a difference, and this year the chosen people are heroes of the environment. (Not available in the US print edition, I’m afraid — but hey, you get a J-Lo interview that we miss out on…) It’s a slightly odd list to my eye, satisfyingly broad-based (it has many people on it about whom most of us will know little or anything, but for whom there’s a good case to be made) but with some people on it that I wouldn’t choose and some omissions that I would have liked to see filled (and since they asked me for advice and I didn’t give as much as I should have, I really shouldn’t complain). It’s particularly weird, the week after the Nobel prize, not to see anyone associated with the IPCC singled out — or for that matter the IPCC itself. It’s also odd not to see much about farming and new farming approaches: we get the Prince of Wales (about whose troubling beliefs I wrote disobligingly for Time’s rivals Newsweek back in 1999, but the piece seems lost to the web Update: now found) and Jose Goldemberg, Brazilian biofuels pioneer, and that seems to be it.

My contribution is a short paean to Jim Lovelock. Excerpt:

Lovelock has been my subject, friend and inspiration for 20 years. Humble, stubborn, charming, visionary, proud and generous, his ideas about Gaia have started a change in theJim Lovelock conception of biology that may serve as a vital complement to the revolution that brought us the structures of dna and proteins and the genetic code. That revolution came from the realization that biology required an understanding of living systems at a molecular level; Lovelock’s revolution, as yet unfinished, seeks to understand their mechanisms on a planetary level.

One thing that intrigued me is in the article written by Jim Hansen on Paul Crutzen. Hansen writes:

We would be wise to heed Crutzen on global warming, too, because he can fairly be described as the chief scientific caretaker of life on the planet … In contrast to the prompt attention paid to the ozone threat, foot-dragging on climate change has convinced Crutzen that major geo-engineering may be needed to cool the planet. He suggests a massive injection of sulfur into the stratosphere to form particles that reflect sunlight away. It’s a radical proposal that just might jolt some politicians into realizing what researchers learned long ago: that this scientists’ scientist always seems to be one step ahead of everybody else.

I don’t think Hansen (who’s also one of Time’s heroes, written up by Jeff Sachs) has been so sanguine about geoengineering before. Interesting times (Nature feature | blog post | and another.)

Picture of Jim Lovelock by Sandy Lovelock

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What are Prince Charles’s troubling beliefs?

Oliver, you might be interested in a controversial book from Australia that has recently been published in the UK. It is PRIORITY ONE: TOGETHER WE CAN BEAT GLOBAL WARMING by Allan Yeomans. See http://biospheremedia.org for a link to Amazon UK. It’s a detailed examination of the carbon cycle in regard to global warming. Yeomans’s advocacy of nuclear power, and his dismissal of trees as a carbon sink, have alienated some, but it’s a grand description of the soil carbon opportunity.

The dominant view of global warming today is that it’s a technical problem resulting from technology (fossil fuel burning mainly). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the solution, with a resulting political and social orthodoxy. I don’t question that this would be a great thing, but there’s more.

Viewing global warming from the perspective of biospheric or ecosystem processes: water cycling, solar energy flow, nutrient cycling such as carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, etc., and community dynamics/succession gives us quite a few more opportunities to solve the problems, particularly with agriculture. I’m looking forward to reading your book (not available yet in US).

Comment by Peter Donovan

[…] Top Posts The difficulties of going pro-nuclearGet your terawatts here10 best nature booksPower-station-fed algaeHeroes of the Environment 2007 — Time magazine […]

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[…] Just before dashing off to Copenhagen I had the chance to spend some time with Jim (and Sandy) Lovelock, some of which was at and after a Nature event and some more of which will soon be making it to a […]

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[…] contribution this year (following Jim Lovelock in 2007 and Kim Stanley Robinson in 2008) is on David Keith, who I imagine is probably suitably embarrassed […]

Pingback by Heroes of the Environment 2009 — David Keith « Heliophage

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