Nature question: ‘Is climate change going to be less extreme than you previously thought?’
Lovelock: The Revenge of Gaia was over the top, but we were all so taken in by the perfect correlation between temperature and CO2 in the ice-core analyses [from the ice-sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, studied since the 1980s]. You could draw a straight line relating temperature and CO2, and it was such a temptation for everyone to say, “Well, with CO2 rising we can say in such and such a year it will be this hot.” It was a mistake we all made.
We shouldn’t have forgotten that the system has a lot of inertia and we’re not going to shift it very quickly. The thing we’ve all forgotten is the heat storage of the ocean — it’s a thousand times greater than the atmosphere and the surface. You can’t change that very rapidly But being an independent scientist, it is much easier to say you made a mistake than if you are a government department or an employee or anything like that.
Nature: ‘So what will the next 100 years look like?’
Lovelock: ‘That’s impossible to answer. All I can say is that it will be nowhere as near as bad as the worst-case scenario.’