Sunday, January 01, 2006

Like most things modern, Gaia was born in London. The man who invented Earth comes from Brixton Hill. James Lovelock, the scientist who put forward the hypothesis that Earth and life on it behave as an organism or self-regulating system, started his love affair with chemistry in the basement of Brixton Library.

(I never knew they had a basement. Maybe that 's where they put all the books, now that they cleared the space for computer terminals and DVDs.)

He thinks we've had it.

In front of him, on a large flat panel monitor, there is a climate map of the northern hemisphere, updating constantly with evidence of climate change. All around Greenland there is unfrozen water; though it's early December the North West passage has only just closed.

Read the interview, it's good. Lovelock is no hippie, and he's not exactly green. Famously, he supports Nuclear Power. "The Greens don't seem to understand that without electricity, civilisation would collapse. Just imagine London without electricity. Within three weeks it would be like Darfur."

I once lived for three months in a house without electricity. It was one of my most loved houses in London, a real haven. The serenity and calm are not easy to capture in words. I learnt there that darkness can be your friend. Granted, we had gas for heating. The only 'problem' was charging mobile phones; all the rest proved easy to live without.

On nuclear energy, I'd quote N/E: the stuff stays radioactive for 24,000 years. The only way to handle nuclear waste is to keep it safe. Would you trust humans to keep anything safe and beyond reach for 100 years, let alone 24,000 years? No quick fixes, please.

He thinks it is a ludicrous presumption to suppose that we can save the world. Serious climate change is now inevitable, whatever we do: by the middle of the century, he says, the Arctic icecap will have gone; by the end of it, the rain forests will have disappeared too, to be replaced by desolation. The Earth's temperature will have risen by 8C, as it has before, and it will probably stay there for another 200,000 years.

Let's enjoy it while it lasts. You can also read his chat with Guardian readers from five years ago.


Electric Sadhu said...

"…the stuff stays radioactive for 24,000 years..."
I don't quite understand this statement. When does radioactive material "stop" being radioactive? I guess you're referring to a decay in radioactivity graph.
First of all, like most exponential decay graphs, it's sketched in a log-log scale, which accentuates changes on different time and magnitude orders. This can be quite confusing.
Usually, once 7 "half-lives" have passed the decay is "over" for all practical purposes. It seems to me nuclear waste half-life is of the order of a few years, decades at most (see this non-log graph).
One can argue it is still long enough a time to create a catastrophe...

mink said...

I understand that it depends on what elements of the waste you're talking about exactly.
For someone like me, who doesn't know much about this (hey, I was just quoting Nick!) it's not so easy to get the overall picture. I mean you google it and find something that looks like authorative information, but who runs the site? most sites have agendas, even if they pretend not to.
For example the graph you brought is from - hmmm, I wonder what their point would be.
However even they say that 3 percent remain highly radioactive for long-term - more than decades, but they don't write for how long. All other places I looked at spoke of hazzard of thousands of years - again for specific elements of the waste. The 24k years number refers to Plutonium-239, which is the basic nuclear fisson fuel (so there's large stocks of the stuff, in the US and Russia and... probably a small pile in the Negev). I couldn't understand if this isotype is also found in the waste proudcts.

Anyway, three percent sound bad enough for me. Just imagine this was the main source of energy.

But you're right, even ten years is bad enough. See the greenpeace report on the russian city of Mayak

more links:
is very technical and clearly tries to be as 'objective' as possible.

Also check the Wikipedia site on plutonium which I think you'll like

mink said...

and just to make clear, yes I was refering to half-life, 24k years is plutonium239 half-life.

Electric Sadhu said...

Just acting as the devil's advocate...

mink said...

please do! it's good... you know well that I don't have a clue about half the things i'm writing.