Monday, March 31, 2008

Matthew Jull: Designer of Arctic Cities

The roundabout ways of the every-circulating and ever-percolating Internet brought me, quite by serendipity, to the discovery of the pioneering work of Matthew Jull, a graduate student in design at Harvard University's School of Design.

Matthew read about polar cities in a New York Times blog by Andrew Revkin, sent me a brief email to say hello and introduce himself, I called him on the phone in Camridge to say hello back, and then he told me a bit about his work. Turns out that Mr Jull is doing his thesis presentation on the design of arctic cities, with a special focus on a future settlement in Resolute Bay in Canada. It's not science fiction. It's modern design. Inspired by the earlier work of Ralph Erskine, Jull is peering into the future with a keen lens and the results will be available soon in a book.

For now, it's good to know that Mr Jull is using his considerable design talents to thinking about future adaptation strategies, in the case that global warming becomes a worst case scenario. Stay tuned to this page for more images from Mr Jull's website.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Polar Cities a Haven in Warming World?

The New York Times, in a blog written by environment and science reporter Andrew Revkin [in photo above at the North Pole], posted a nice introduction to the polar cities project today, in a blog post titled "Polar Cities a Haven in Warming World?"

Noting that the project, with illustrations by Deng Cheng-hong, a Taiwanese artist, is a [non-threatening] thought experiment, it will be interesting to see the kinds of reactions the blog post provokes, both pro and con. I am all ears.

Mr Revkin noted:

Danny Bloom, a 58 year old American freelance writer from the Boston area living in Taiwan, is on a one-man campaign to get people to seriously consider a worst-case prediction of the British chemist and inventor James Lovelock: life in “polar cities” arrayed around the shores of an ice-free Arctic Ocean in a greenhouse-warmed world.

Dr. Lovelock, who in 1972 conceived of Earth’s crust, climate and veneer of life as a unified self-sustaining entity, Gaia, foresees humanity in full pole-bound retreat within a century as areas around the tropics roast — a scenario far outside even the worst-case projections of climate scientists.

After reading a newspaper column in which Dr. Lovelock predicted disastrous warming, Mr. Bloom teamed up with Deng Cheng-hong, a Taiwanese artist, and set up blogsites showing designs for self-sufficient Arctic communities.

Mr. Bloom, a 1971 Tufts graduate, told me his intent was to conduct a thought experiment that might prod people out of their comfort zone on climate — which remains, for many, a someday, somewhere issue.

I interviewed Dr. Lovelock two years ago on his dire climate forecast and prescriptions — and also his ultimately optimistic view that humans will muddle through, albeit with a greatly reduced population. There’s a video of my chat with Dr. Lovelock on my blog.

“At six going on eight billion people,” Dr. Lovelock told me, “the idea of any further development is almost obscene. We’ve got to learn how to retreat from the world that we’re in. Planning a good retreat is always a good measure of generalship.”

The retreat, he insists, will be toward the poles.

It’s a dubious scenario, particularly on time scales shorter than centuries. But — as we’ve written extensively in recent years — there is already an intensifying push to develop Arctic resources and test shipping routes that could soon become practical should the floating sea ice in the Arctic routinely vanish in summers.
Sensing the shift, the Coast Guard has proposed establishing its first permanent Arctic presence, a helicopter station in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States.

It’s not a stretch to think of Barrow as a hub for expanding commercial fishing and trade through the Bering Strait.

The strategic significance of an opening Arctic recently made the pages of Foreign Affairs magazine, in an article by one of my longtime sources on this issue, Scott Borgerson, a former Coast Guard officer who is now a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“It is no longer a matter of if, but when, the Arctic Ocean will open to regular marine transportation and exploration of its lucrative natural-resource deposits,” he wrote.

So even if humanity isn’t driven to Arctic shores by climate calamity at lower latitudes, it’s a sure bet that the far north will be an ever busier place. Urban planners, get out your mukluks.

I sent a note back to the Dot Earth blog that reads:

Thank you for posting this nice introduction to the polar cities
thought experiment. Am looking forward to reader reaction pro and con.
We talk alot these days about mitigation, and we need to. And
geo-engineering ideas are also very important. But "adaptation"
strategies, if worst comes to worst, will also be vital.

Below is the exact sentence from Dr Lovelock's oped piece that started
me off in this direction more than a year ago. It was his "breeding
pairs" remark that jolted me awake. Deng Cheng-hong in Taiwan, the
illustrator who made a series of computer-generated "blueprints" using
the SketchUp software, deserves special mention for visualizing what
was at first just a very rough black-and-white sketch that I drew on a

"We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and
before this century is over billions of us will die and [*the few
breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic*] where
the climate remains tolerable." -- (James Lovelock)

Mr. Deng's images have now been tracked across the Internet in posts
that have appeared in English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Korean and
Chinese. I hope these are just the beginning of many other conceptual
drawings of what future Arctic habitats might look like in the far
distant future.

By the way, while Dr Lovelock says "at the end of the century, meaning
2100 AD, and in recent interviews in the Guardian and Daily Mail in
the UK has mentioned the dates of 2020 and 2040 as when this will
occur, my own (more naive) thinking dates these polar cities as being
inhabited around the year 2500 AD. So we have 30 more generations to
start thinking about these human population retreats, planning them,
designing them, siting them and even pre-building them.

One possibility is our own generation, now, is to build a model polar
city with funding from someone like Sir Richard Branson or the Google
people and letting volunteer "residents" test it out during summer
months in a place such as Norway or Iceland or Alaska, mostly as an
educational tool and public awareness vehicle. But 2500 is a long way
off, so there's plenty of time.

By the way, humor is important, too, as always. Some observers have
compared these polar city illustrations to Habitrail tubes for
hamsters and gerbils, and one wit titled his blog post "Shall the
future be lived in Gerbil Cities?"

To see what a variety of top scientists have said to me personally
over the past year, in emails in which I am keeping their names
private, you can check the pro and con statements that they have made
privately to me here:

Lastly, I also sent an email to Dr Lovelock earlier this year, to show
him the images that Mr Deng created, and the very next day I received
an email back from Dr Lovelock saying: "Thanks for showing me the
images. It may very well happen and soon."

For Dr Lovelock, "soon" might might be the yaer 2100. But naive
youngster that I am, I still say not until the year 2500. But it's
getting later earlier and earlier.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Icelandic Oasis - A Model Polar City Arises?


in the Highlands of Iceland (as one of the world's first model polar
cities for survivors of global warming in the far distant future)

A collaboration across borders

>April 2008


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Для ссылки на эту статью себе в дневник:

Для ссылки на эту статью себе в дневник:

The Ups and Downs of Global Warming

Andrew MOISEENKO, -- translation by: J. Marshall Commins — 25.03.3008

The year 2007 marked the warmest year in the history of Russian climate observation, according to the Russian Federal Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring Service (Rosgidromet). The average annual temperature was 2°С above the norm.

Few doubt that the Earth's climate is changing, but no one knows exactly why or how long the process will last. The international community must start preparing today for the effects of global warming.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently published the article: "Sixty-Three Answers to Questions from the Global Warming Skeptic." KP offers readers compelling insights from the educational brochure.

Q: Climate change has occurred repeatedly throughout history. The temperature was so warm in the Middle Ages that today's ice-capped Greenland was referred to as the "Green Country" due to its abundant flora. So why should we be worried now?

A: Temperatures from the past 250 years do in fact prove that today's climate change isn't unique. The climate has been both colder and hotter. In the age of the dinosaurs, for example, the temperature was 7°С warmer than today.

Previously, temperature change led to the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases. Today everything is reversed. We see an unprecedented increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide and methane causing the temperature to rise. This sudden change is explained by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Q: If it gets warmer, then we'll be able to grow bananas in Russia...?

A: Today, global warming is affecting our agriculture favorably. We're seeing a decline in dangerous winters which harbor extreme frost for winter crops. Our plants are blossoming 5-10 days prematurely in some regions. We also have fewer June frosts in several northern regions in European Russia. Scientists say that a slight increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases the productivity of many crops; but, the temperature is continuing to rise.

Rosgidromet notes that by 2020 the productivity of grain crops will decline significantly by 20 percent in the North Caucasus and 15 percent in Russia's Central Black Earth Region, in the Volga region, and in the Urals and eastern Siberia. Although we'll see a 7-9-percent increase in crop productivity in Russia's northern and southwestern regions, as well as the Far East, this will not compensate for the loss.

Q: In the past few years, they've started planting potatoes in the northern parts of the Sakha Republic. We're pleased to hear the news.

A: It's true. About 350 years ago, Peter Golovin and Matvey Glebov, two provincial governors, wrote that "...the earth [in the Yakut Burg], Your Majesty, does not thaw in the summer," this is why "...according to the tales of trade and industrial servants, cereal cultivation should not be expected." But the permafrost thaw is causing a number of problems.

In the 20th Century, the Earth's temperature rose to 0.7°С, and to 5°С in northern regions. In the past 30 years, over 300 buildings in Yakutsk have been damaged due to the subsidence of frozen grounds. From 1990-1999, more structures suffered from irregular subsidence than in the past decade: 42 percent in Norilsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai); 61 percent in Yakutsk (Sakha Republic); 90 percent in Amderma (Arkhangelsk Oblast).

Q: At last, we can stop freezing and start saving on heating.

A: Experts say that Russia's heating season will decrease 4-5 days by 2015 (even 5 days in Kamchatka). We'll save fuel and energy by 5-10 percent – 20 percent by 2050. But, we'll use air conditioners more often. Economists say that these costs will eat up one-third of what we'll save. We also expect to see a partial weather change with irregular warm and cold periods, strong winds and snowfalls (both during and after the heating season). Therefore, we'll need additional energy outputs.

Q: In 1998 and 2005 (ed. and 2007), temperatures reached a record high. But one or two warm years doesn't amount to global warming.

A: Of course, individual years taken on their own can't prove or disprove global warming; 2005 isn't a climate gauge in and of itself. But what about the fact that 10 of the past 15 years – and 20 of the past 25 – reached unprecedented high temperatures. A phenomenal record glacial thaw was observed in Antarctica in 2007. By the end of summer, the glacial area was only 4.4 mln square kilometers. For the past 30 years, it had been nearly double that – 8 mln square kilometers.

Q: According to estimations, the average temperature may increase more than 2°С. Is this a considerable amount?

A: It's not inconsequential. Remember, we're talking about the average temperature on Earth. In certain places, the temperature may increase much more.

Russia faces a temperature increase of 4-6°С. Meanwhile, the temperature in Antarctica will nearly double. Even more, 500 mln people will suffer from a lack of freshwater due to this 2°С temperature increase. About 3 bln will suffer given a 3°С temperature increase.

Q: We've had floods and droughts in Russia before. There haven't been any emergency climate situations...

A: Rosgidromet says that the number of dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena has doubled, reaching 300 per year from 1990-2005. In fact, we had 311 and 361 incidents in 2004 and 2005, respectively (387 and 436 in 2006 and 2007). By 2015, this number will double again to 600 – or two natural disasters per day.

Q: Everyone starts talking about global warming when it's hot in the summer, or warm in the winter, but their voices die down when the frost and snowfalls begin.

A: Global warming isn't a smooth temperature increase, but more a disbalance. It's a wild rocking of the whole climate system on the backdrop of a slowly rising temperature. When it was 10-15°С warmer than the norm in Moscow on New Year's Eve in 2007, the weather dropped to -15°С in Tashkent (similar to this year). At the end of May 2007, when Moscow residents were suffering from extreme heat, Geneva saw the temperature drop to 4°С.

It's the swaying of the climate system that has 4-5 times more effect than the average temperature increase, which, for example, is only 2°С in Moscow during the winter.

Rosgidromet says that the amount of dangerous winter hydrometeorological phenomena hasn't decreased over the past 15 years, composing 60-80 incidents per year in Russia. We should anticipate abundant snowfalls and frost around 30°С, and with increasingly frequent strong thaws and rains within the intervals.

Q: Green organizations say that the glaciers are thawing... But the glacier cap in Antarctica has increased in past years.

A: Glacial areas in Antarctica are only increasing on the eastern mainland.

NASA says that Antarctica's glacial volume is generally decreasing. So the glacier cap's growth doesn't contradict overall global warming.

As it becomes warmer in Antarctica, we'll see snowfalls increase. Even a colossal temperature increase of 20°С (for example, from -50 to -30°С) won't result in the snow's thawing. Actually, the glacier will increase in volume. Greenland is losing three times more glacier than Antarctica. Thus, Greenland's glacial thawing more than compensates for the decrease in the rising sea level as a result of the increasing glacier cap in eastern Antarctica.

Q: The atmosphere can't warm enough to completely thaw Greenland's and Antarctica's glaciers, so we shouldn't be worried that the sea level will rise dramatically.

A: Greenland's and Antarctica's glaciers aren't thawing as much as they're breaking off. As the climate becomes warmer, the surface ice thaws, and the melted water travels down the fractures to the glacier's bottom. The water acts like a lubricant, which helps enormous glacial chunks to slip into the ocean where they quickly thaw.

This is why scientists estimate that the sea level will increase almost one meter in the 21st Century; consequently, there are several possible models of what may transpire.

Worst case scenario, or even in an average case scenario, cities like Shanghai, Calcutta, Amsterdam and Saint Petersburg will be either flooded or only exist with the use of high dams. In this case, however, the ground water level will increase and the cities' structural foundations will have to be rebuilt.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sir James Lovelock

Did you ever wonder why Dr James Lovelock, the famed British scientist, co-creator of the Gaia theory of the Earth (along with Dr Lynn Margulis at UMASS in Amherst, according to sources), did you ever wonder why Dr Lovelock has never been knighted bu his Queen over there? I mean, they knight Paul McCartney and Richard Branson and Arthur C. Clarke, but why does the Queen overlook Sir James Lovelock, who at 88 and counting, does not have all that much time left on this plane of existence, maybe another ten years or so.

So, let's band together, you and I, dear Readers, all three of you, and see if we can persuade the Queen to so honor Dr Lovelock in his lifetime. Pro or con, the man has brains, he has used them, and his ideas and theories are worth thinking about, if nothing else. So: yes, let it be Sir James Lovelock, ASAP.

Now, just how does one go about asking for a knighthood for a bloke like Dr. L?

Any suggestions? Does the Queen have an email addy?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Towards a safe-climate future with safe-climate lifestyles

Towards a safe-climate future with safe-climate lifestyles

In the fight against global warming, no matter what side of the aisle
one is coming from, leftwing or rightwing or right down the center --
or even, in some cases, outright denial that man-made global warming
exists at all -- the words and slogans used by activists and
campaigners can have a powerful impact on the debate, not only swaying
minds but also changing the ways that people live their lives, carbon
footprint at all.

Recently, there was a news item on the Internet with a headline that
went like this:

"Five keys to a safe-climate future"


When a blogger in Taiwan read that headline and saw for the first time
the phrase "safe-climate future", his eyes did not glaze over, quite
the contrary. He woke up from the normal quiet buzz in the email cafe
where he was surfing the Internet that day and realized that the using
the two words together, with a hyphen connecting them --
"safe-climate" -- had a very good ring to it, and was immediately
recognizable and understandable due to earlier coinage of "safe-sex"
practices among activists fighting other battles.

If "safe-sex", which had a particular ring to it after being
popularized in English around the world, could have an impact, then
perhaps "safe-climate" could also play a role in the debate over
climate change and global warming, the blogger in Taiwan thought to
himself as fellow denizens of the email cafe continued playing a
variety of noisy "computer games" on the Internet all over the
cavernous room. Yes, he thought, this term, whoever coined it, has
come up with a very good concept, and it could be applied to other
topics in the global warming debate -- for example, one could speak of
"safe-climate lifestyles" and "safe-climate education" and
"safe-climate ideas," in addition to talking about a "safe-climate

According to sources, Rhett Butler, of the website, first
coined the "safe-climate future" wording when he wrote the headline
for the article about the Code Red report linked to above. From there,
the phrase spread around the Internet, via blogs and comments and news
websites, and a new phrase was born. So whether we are talking about a
safe-climate future or practicing a safe-climate lifestyle, the new
coinage has great possibilities of rallyng people around the vital
issues of the day and inspiring them to lead more safe-climate
lifestyles themselves.

The phrase seems like a good wake-up call, using language as a tool.
When asked about this idea, comments on the blogosphere ranged from
"inspired" to "important". Of course, there were also some naysayers,
there are always people who don't cotton to a new word or phrase when
they first encounter it and shy way from wanting to use it when it
seems so strange to them at first. Later, they might come around. Or
later, they may still not like the new coinage. That's okay. If the
words or phrases are useful, they will be used. If they are not useful
or inspiring, they will fall by the wayside.

But talking about a safe-climate future and leading safe-climate
lifestyles seems to make sense in this day and age. Here are what some
people said in comments:

"I think it's a good PR phrase. The article says that now
'radical' responses from activists are required. I don't know what to do
'radically', but anything that helps, such as promoting a 'safe-climate'
consciousness, lifestyle, future, surely has to help. It's a good phrase."

"Go, go, go! ''Safe-climate future or safe-climate lifestyles'' sounds
like a great idea. Good framing."

"I Like the term a lot! -- Catchy."

"It's simple, succinct and catchy. It's an idea that most people can
easily grasp. So it seems good."

"Tha is an awesome term, safe-climate, and yes, we should get it used!
In the media and in the blogosphere. Who coined it?" [Ed note: Rhett

"I too have been looking for a phrase to embody this idea. I've seen a
couple -- such as "climate preservation" -- but nothing that sounds as
good to me as "safe-climate lifestyle"
"That sounds good. We need catchy phrases like that to get people
thinking. And it doesn't sound ego-threatening or scare-mongering."

"The ways of language are mysterious, and impossible to predict. But
there's no doubt that the new reality of the 21st century calls for
such a phrase as "safe-climate lifestyle or safe-climate future, and
that phrase is definitely a good contender -- perhaps in time it will
come to be known as the phrase that saved the climate!"

So a new phrase has been born, thanks to Rhett Butler's creativity and
inspiration. If the word term catches on with media people at
newspapers and on TV and radio, in addition to people blogging day and
night about climate issues, it might have a long shelf life and be an
important addition not only to our vocabulary, which is always
evolving, but also the fight against global warming itself, as a means
to help raise public awareness and concious.


Here a list Margeurite Rao compiled of the top 100 green-related keywords in online searches, using Wordtracker:

global warming
solar energy
polar bears
solar power
endangered species
air pollution
water pollution
solar panels
electric cars
wind energy
climate change
tankless water heater
wind power
geothermal energy
hybrid cars
waste management
tankless water heaters
al gore
planet earth
greenhouse effect
effects of global warming
science news
fossil fuels
oil prices
cause of global warming
natural resources
solar cells
alternative energy
water heaters
green guy
mother earth news
solar panel
earth day
bottled water
climate map
carbon dioxide
climate graphs
human nature
what is global warming
water conservation
thermal energy
free energy
ocean pollution
renewable energy
endangered species list
price of oil
popular science
peak oil
going green
fuel cells
kyoto protocol
causes of global warming
electronic waste
solar powered cars
land pollution
energy star
an inconvenient truth
department of energy
hybrid vehicles
environmental issues
solar water heater
recycling facts
greenhouse gases
global warming facts
organic food
green building
consequences of global warming
science magazine
solar cell
mother earth
go green
genetically modified food
solar dryer
earth science dictionary
national wildlife federation
earth science
noise pollution
carbon footprint
energy conservation
hybrid car

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Could polar cities be the fallout shelters of the climate change era? And Lovelock speaks out, again!

Could polar cities be the fallout shelters of the climate change era?

AND NOW, DR LOVELOCK SPEAKS UP AGAIN, in a Guardian interview:

'Enjoy life while you can'

Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam. So what would he do?

By Decca Aitkenhead
The Guardian, March 1, 3008

In 1965 executives at Shell wanted to know what the world would look like in the year 2000. They consulted a range of experts, who speculated about fusion-powered hovercrafts and "all sorts of fanciful technological stuff". When the oil company asked the scientist James Lovelock, he predicted that the main problem in 2000 would be the environment. "It will be worsening then to such an extent that it will seriously affect their business," he said.

"And of course," Lovelock says, with a smile 43 years later, "that's almost exactly what's happened."

Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if maverick - independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.

For decades, his advocacy of nuclear power appalled fellow environmentalists - but recently increasing numbers of them have come around to his way of thinking. His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report deploys less dramatic language - but its calculations aren't a million miles away from his.

As with most people, my panic about climate change is equalled only by my confusion over what I ought to do about it. A meeting with Lovelock therefore feels a little like an audience with a prophet. Buried down a winding track through wild woodland, in an office full of books and papers and contraptions involving dials and wires, the 88-year-old presents his thoughts with a quiet, unshakable conviction that can be unnerving. More alarming even than his apocalyptic climate predictions is his utter certainty that almost everything we're trying to do about it is wrong.

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests."

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? "No we don't. Because we can't." And recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a waste of time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to little more than "ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. "Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam ... or if it wasn't one in the beginning, it becomes one."

Somewhat unexpectedly, Lovelock concedes that the Mail's plastic bag campaign seems, "on the face of it, a good thing". But it transpires that this is largely a tactical response; he regards it as merely more rearrangement of Titanic deckchairs, "but I've learnt there's no point in causing a quarrel over everything". He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy.

"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

This is all delivered with an air of benign wonder at the intractable stupidity of people. "I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they're doing. They want business as usual. They say, 'Oh yes, there's going to be a problem up ahead,' but they don't want to change anything."

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."

Faced with two versions of the future - Kyoto's preventative action and Lovelock's apocalypse - who are we to believe? Some critics have suggested Lovelock's readiness to concede the fight against climate change owes more to old age than science: "People who say that about me haven't reached my age," he says laughing.

But when I ask if he attributes the conflicting predictions to differences in scientific understanding or personality, he says: "Personality."

There's more than a hint of the controversialist in his work, and it seems an unlikely coincidence that Lovelock became convinced of the irreversibility of climate change in 2004, at the very point when the international consensus was coming round to the need for urgent action. Aren't his theories at least partly driven by a fondness for heresy?

"Not a bit! Not a bit! All I want is a quiet life! But I can't help noticing when things happen, when you go out and find something. People don't like it because it upsets their ideas."
But the suspicion seems confirmed when I ask if he's found it rewarding to see many of his climate change warnings endorsed by the IPCC. "Oh no! In fact, I'm writing another book now, I'm about a third of the way into it, to try and take the next steps ahead."

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock's predictions of doom, and his good humour. "Well I'm cheerful!" he says, smiling. "I'm an optimist. It's going to happen."

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when "we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn't know what to do about it". But once the second world war was under way, "everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday ... so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that's what people want."

At moments I wonder about Lovelock's credentials as a prophet. Sometimes he seems less clear-eyed with scientific vision than disposed to see the version of the future his prejudices are looking for. A socialist as a young man, he now favours market forces, and it's not clear whether his politics are the child or the father of his science. His hostility to renewable energy, for example, gets expressed in strikingly Eurosceptic terms of irritation with subsidies and bureaucrats. But then, when he talks about the Earth - or Gaia - it is in the purest scientific terms all.

"There have been seven disasters since humans came on the Earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That's the source of my optimism."

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."