If we needed an anthem for COP meetings here it is. A troubled song, written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and in McCartney’s view ruined by Phil Spector. Spector’s modifications angered McCartney to the point that when he made his case in the English High Court for the Beatles’ disbandment, he cited the treatment of “The Long and Winding Road” as one of six reasons for doing so. [Wiki]
It’s extraordinary that there was so much hype over COP26. Who in their right minds would have held out any hope of Boris Johnson and his side-kicks presiding over a successful international agreement? Or that 192 parties would reach consensus. In the event we had a muted end to a disastrous conference in which China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia, and at the last minute India, defied all attempts to save the planet. No surprise!
The goals and outcomes can be scored as:
Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. FAILED
Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. FAILED
Mobilise finance FAILED
Work together to deliver FAILED
While COP26 has been struggling to make sense, I was busy reading James Lovelock’s new and manifestly last book, Novacene. Always the optimist Lovelock (at the grand old age of 102!!!) encourages us to not be depressed with the apparent failure of the human species and the Anthropocene.
Lovelock looks forward to the next era of the Novacene – the age of hyper intelligence. The title of the last chapter is Envoi, his poem of farewell and we must infer his farewell to life. Lovelock reminisces on his time consulting to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1960s, where incidentally I myself followed in his footsteps in 2007. He recalls how the biologists asked the question, ”How do we detect the presence of life on other planets?” He replied that it was pointless to seek Earth-type life on other planets, especially at a time when we humans were largely ignorant of our own environment and almost wholly ignorant of other planets. This upset the senior biologists, who were convinced that the only possible form of life must be based on DNA. Accordingly he was summoned to speak to the senior NASA space engineer who asked, “How would YOU seek life on another planet?” He replied that he would seek an entropy (lack of order) reduction on the planetary surface. He had come to realize that Life in the broader meaning of the word, organized its environment. And it was from that exchange that the Gaia concept was born.
The theme of the new book is that we are now, in this 21st century at the point where the Anthropocene is ending; that the human species has left the world in crisis on many levels, but primarily man has triggered a level of global warming that will be very hard to reverse. Lovelock believes that the already exploding use of artificial intelligence will lead very rapidly, probably in this century, to the development of a hybrid species we might refer to as cyborgs. And that will herald the Novacene, the age of hyper intelligence. That it will be the cyborgs, with massively greater intellectual capability and discipline, facilitated by the Gaia global system, that will eventually bring the world’s environment back to at least to some level of sustainability.
This isn’t to say that the cyborgs will supersede humans, rather in Lovelock’s opinion, they will coexist and collaborate in, to use his phrase, entropy reduction. After the disgraceful display of entropy in Glasgow over the past two weeks, it’s hard to believe we can recover from that. However the last word must go to Lovelock. “We should not feel degraded by these, our offspring. . . . with the appearance of humans, just 300,000 years ago , this planet, alone in the cosmos, attained the capacity to know itself. . . . We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings.”
Novacene, The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence. James Lovelock with Bryan Appleyard.
Allen Lane, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-0241399361
The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Leads me to your door