Previous post:

Next post:

James Lovelock talks biodiversity and mass extinction

by Mel Starrs on April 9, 2009

in Events & Conferences

So the fuzzy image to the left is from left to right: James Lovelock (89), Micheal Meacher (69) and Crispin Tickell (78), with the chairman whose name I didn’t catch.

I had the opportunity to see these three wise men speak at a Nature magazine sponsored talk at Kings Place, London on 9 March 2009.

The title of the talk was “What price biodiversity” but given the current economic climate, a lot of the talk was given over to the mess we have got ourselves in. In fact, the similarity between economic models and climate models was noted by Lovelock.

The average age of the speakers was almost 79 and at this stage in their careers, they weren’t pussy footing around and were ready to speak their mind!

I took copious notes from the debate, some of which I’ll give below. I’ve tried to attribute the quotes and thoughts to the correct party – apologies if I got any of it wrong:


Ecosystems are not here to service us humans. This attitude is comparable to slavery and just as reprehensible.

Biodiversity is not comprehensible to the man on the street.

Oil will run out in 40 years and this will have an impact on agriculture, leading to mass extinction (on this point the whole panel agreed!)


3 factors for change are required:

  • leadership from above
  • pressure from below
  • benign catastrophe

By benign catastrophe, he meant something which visibly and attributably goes wrong.

Mentioned alternate means of measuring wealth eg: instead of GDP, use HDI (Human Development Index). Alerted us to Sarkozy’s challenge to Stiglitz and Sen to come up with a quality of life indicator for France – more on that can be found at NYT here.

Believes population growth is a cultural behaviour rather than an ‘instinct’ and hence can be reprogrammed.


Noted that the neo-liberal market view is breaking down and the new world economic order is an enormous opportunity.

Again, he noted the need for some kind of national or international disaster to act as a catalyst for change. The current economic crisis of this magnitude is an opportunity.

The debate was also held on Second Life (which I must admit, I haven’t taken to at all – mainly due to my continuing peripetetic life, flitting between PC’s, laptops and locations). Some more coherent notes are available here from Cian O’Donovan who I’ve just started stalking on twitter.

The take home message from the evening was that we’ve sat around talking about this for far too long. Time is running out and mass extinction of the human race (or at least western civilisation as we know it) is very much on the cards.