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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  July 13, 2021 4:30am-5:01am BST

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the cuban opposition says dozens of activists have been arrested since sunday, when thousands of people joined the biggest protests in decades against the island's communist government. many were detained at the demonstrations, others were picked up from their homes. president diaz—canel has blamed the united states for the unrest. at least a0 people have been killed in a fire at a iraqi hospital treating coronavirus patients, in the city of nassiriya. health officials say the fire is now being brought under control but dozens of patients are said to be missing. south africa's governing anc party has warned that continuing violent demonstrations will have a devastating economic impact on the country. troops have been deployed to protect property, as protestors set buildings on fire and looted shops. the violence was triggered by the jailing of the former president, jacob zuma.
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now on bbc news, hardtalk, with stephen sackur, who talks to newsmakers and personalities from across the globe. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. and today, i'vejourneyed to the beautiful south coast of england to meet one of the past century's most influential environmentalists, james lovelock. now, he introduced us to the gaia hypothesis — the idea that our planet and all of the life on it are part of one dynamic, self—regulating system. lovelock is now 101 years old, still having big thoughts about the future of life on earth. have we humans sown the seeds of our own destruction? james lovelock, welcome to hardtalk.
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thank you. yes, glad to be back! it is such a pleasure to have you back on the programme. i want to ask you for your reflections on your own famous gaia hypothesis — that idea that all of life on this planet, and the planet itself, are part of one self—regulating system. when you developed the idea five decades ago, you seemed quite optimistic that this system was very durable, very resilient. well, it had lasted three billion years — that's not bad going! but are you now worried about its vulnerability? yes, iam. you see, i see gaia, the system of the earth, as about the same age as me, in effect. you mean...? it's. . .102, coming up. what i mean is it it's equivalent to that, in a planet's terms. its time is approaching.
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you're saying that our planet and all of life on this planet is in its last phase? yep. unless... unless we do things to stop that happening, or the — or us, those that follow us do it, it could be rescued, to an extent. what would we all, as a species — the human species — what would we all need to do now to avert that sort of, frankly, end—of—life scenario that you're talking about? i think the first thing is to understand what's happening. you can't really do much if everybody is arguing about it — which they have been, up to date. very few people accept it. my theory is the earth at the beginning — the biologists in particular were particular — felt
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that it was in some ways anti—darwin, which it wasn't in any way. mmm. it complied entirely in agreement with darwin's great ideas. and it took a long time before they swung round. and the trouble is, science is too divided up. universities, for their own reasons, have separated it into a whole series of different subjects, so that physicists know damn all about biology — most of them — and biologists very little about physics or geology or anything else. they just stick with their own subject. and that's no way to understand it, and we've got to change it. when i last spoke to you, which was more than a decade ago, i came away feeling that while you were anxious that we humans were not doing
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enough to address the challenge of climate change, that in the end, gaia, the inclusive planet with all of life within it, was durable enough to withstand the mistakes being made by human beings. now i'm sensing that you're not so sure? absolutely. because we've been doing so much damage on such a scale, you see? before we'd started interfering about, oh, isuppose, 100 or more years ago, the planet was looking after itself pretty well, and it would have gone on for quite a long time. we — i had an article in thejournal nature on the lifespan of the biosphere, and it put it at about a million
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years at least. and i believed that then. but gradually, we've got worse and worse. we've put more and more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere — and we insist we need to do so. and nothing — nothing that is argued against it seems to have any effect on people at large. i think the trouble mainly is there's so much money tied up in it. but we do now have governments around the world who are making real commitments — for example, to being net zero carbon emitters by 2050. that's a pledge made by the uk government, by other developed world governments. the chinese government is pouring resources into renewables now, trying to cut its own emissions. are you not looking around the world and feeling that finally, the message is getting through?
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yes, though i think they're more worried about the money than they are about the climate! chuckles. there's a kind of feeling that their pensions and things like that are threatened by changes in the use of different fuels. but there's plenty of hard evidence now, and there's no doubt about it. and that paris conference was based on hard evidence, not on guesswork or anything like that. the government should be following the suggestions made there, but they don't. they get carried away with, "well, it'll upset the city, "or the — something else — so let's put it off a bit." what are your feelings right now about all of us, your fellow human beings, and our ability notjust to see what we're doing to our planet, but to act upon it, to change our behaviours? i mean, all of us — notjust governments,
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but all of us — are we, as a species, capable of taking the long—term strategic view and changing our behaviours? i like to think we are. after all, when a war is threatened and it becomes a reality and you go to war, most people in a nation that's involved in it, regardless of what side they're on, think it's the right thing to do and they've got to go along and support it. and what is needed is that kind of commitment on the part of the population to climate change, and that doesn't exist at the moment. how urgent, then — or maybe it's too late? i mean, ijust wonder — in the past you've talked about a scenario in which 80% of human beings are basically
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killed off by this long—term warming of the planet, of gaia. is that still the way you see it? i don't think they'll be killed off so much by the heat, i think that as the climate changes, so the plants that we're familiar with will no longer grow. large areas will become desert and they won't be productive. and there's an awful lot of people in the world now — i've forgotten what the exact figure is, somewhere round about seven or eight billion, isn't it? — and they need a lot of food. and what's happening to the climate more affects our food supplies, i think. they're making it too hot for them to bear, because a lot of places
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won't be too hot. you, though, have always been a great believer in human beings�* ability to find solutions. you call yourself an engineer and an inventor, rather than a scientist, and you've always championed huge human projects that might mitigate the effects of this climate change. you've talked about putting vast mirrors... geoengineering, yes. ..into the sky, you've talked about putting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to create a shield, in a sense. and so have others, yes. do you still believe in geoengineering? i think that one method or other will probably be used. the trouble is getting it global. i mean, it's all very well to say, as i often say, that we should be relying in britain on nuclear energy for our — renewable nuclear energy and those renewables we can use like, well, like putting windmills way out at sea, where the wind really blows most of the time. and it's quite a good source, but it is not popular because of the money side of it.
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mmm. well, to be honest with you, your great advocacy over many years of nuclear energy, nuclear power, hasn't been popular because many people — particularly in the green movement — you've had some allies in the green movement and you've had some enemies — but many in the environmental movement see nuclear power as a fundamentally dangerous option. they would point to everything from chernobyl... well, they're crazy!, as you know, they would point to fukushima in the more recent past injapan, and they would say it is insane for human beings to rely on a source of power which, when it goes wrong, threatens the lives of millions. what is much more insane
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is that when the word �*fukushima' is mentioned, most people everywhere now think of a nuclear accident that killed a vast number of people. and this is ridiculous. it was a tsunami — one of the worst tsunamis for a long time. it so happened that a nuclear power station was disabled by the tsunami, but that is all. mmm. it wasn't a nuclear accident. you've described humanity's failure to really embrace nuclear power as a "massive act of planetary self—harm". yes. but you're not winning that argument. have you conceded that you probably will never win it? i'm not sure about that. i think that when the burning of fossil fuels really becomes untenable because it's doing so much damage and it's shut down, they've got to get the energy from somewhere
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if we're to survive and they'll have to look again at nuclear and start saying, "oh, well, of course, it really hasn't killed many people, has it?" mmm. you have looked at the planet and the biosphere and the balance between human activity and the rest of organic life and the very planet itself. you've looked at it in many different ways. i'm intrigued to know what you make of the covid pandemic and what lessons you take from that in terms of the health of gaia right now? what is the covid pandemic telling us? i don't know, but ijust hope that it's not telling us that as our population grows and becomes unsupportable,
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that natural evolution will produce more and more pandemics. after all, the covid one is probably nowhere near as bad as the influenza one that came in 1918, before there were any vaccines to prevent it going — that was a really deadly one. mmm. again, i'm intrigued to tap into your long experience of different eras and different governments and political leaders. the generation of leaders we have today, do you see them as being capable of addressing the scale of the challenge — the environmental challenge that we all now face? i think — let's put it this way — i'd like to think that they might be. the trouble is that they're advised by so many diverse sources right across the board with contrary stories about what should and shouldn't
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be done, that there isn't... it can't be a very easy job to be a politician. i've met quite a few of them in my time, not only in this country, but in countries like japan and elsewhere, and i don't envy their task. i know ambition leads them to it because it's a prestigious one, but it isn't an enviable one. i want to ask you about artificial intelligence, because you wrote a book recently called novacene where you seem to suggest that machine learning is going to reach a point where we human beings are, frankly, superseded at the top of the sort of intelligence pyramid on planet earth. what do you foresee happening? well, i've written it in the book!
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well, i know, but most people haven't read it! actually, i was driven to write that because i was... you know, a long time ago, there was a czech author called karel capek, who wrote a book called rossum's universal robots. and that was about 1920, i think, he wrote that. long... it was just about the time i was born. and they're still talking about it in hollywood as if it was new, these cyborgs and things like that. i thought, "oh, to hell with it. it won't be that kind of warlike, destructive thing, another tribe of people. " if the robots really are worth talking about, let's have intelligent ones. we know that in labs across the world, artificial intelligence is now at the front and centre of research and development.
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but the question is, how far can it go? in the end, will machines have an autonomy... yes. independent consciousness, thinking capacity... no reason why. .. ..that will far surpass we humans? no reason why not. and transcend its powers enormously. and the main reason is quite simple, and anybody can understand it. the living stuff, the biological intelligences on the earth of all kinds — don't forget, we're not the only ones. whales have got enormous brains. so have elephants. elephants have got a bigger brain than we've got, and there's evidence they use it. so we mustn't get too proud. but we're very limited because the speed at which a signal goes along a neuron is one millionth as slow as the speed
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that electron goes down a copper wire. and this gives the artificial intelligence an enormous advantage, a millionfold advantage. once it starts working, it can be enormously simpler. and it is, and it can do things that we can't do. is your vision, then, that in the future of gaia, this planet and all of its life, organic life coexists with electronic intelligent life? yes. it's an interesting mixture. it is rather like us coexisting with plants. we will operate at very different speeds indeed, but we get on all right. but we are vast consumers of resources and, as we've
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discussed in this interview, we also have managed to emit greenhouse gases which have caused a dangerous warming of our planet. so if there is an intelligent machine—based life form... they're not going to put up with burning... our future, they may regard humans as really rather useless and counterproductive. it's not going to put up with burning coal. no. 0r oil. it'll say, "start using nuclear or else." you, i think many years ago, were offered a trip to space by richard branson. yes. what happened to that? oh, well, poor richard branson had bad luck. there was a crash with the space flight plane that he was going to put me on. and, i mean, that kind of thing happens in the development of new aircraft. but i think we've got a lot more fussy these days than we used to be.
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itjust intrigued me that you sounded quite keen to go. i was. do you see human colonisation of space as a vital part of our future as a species? because elon musk, for example, and jeff bezos, they both seem to believe that, frankly, the future for human beings on earth is very limited. i think they're crazy. you... they're crazy? on that issue, yes. they're not crazy in what they've been doing commercially, obviously. i mean, amazon is probably the most successful shop there's ever been. no, no, but... well, we'll leave aside his success with amazon as a business, but when bezos talks about the exciting future for the human species far beyond... he doesn't know much about it. i've spent a lot of time with nasa atjet propulsion labs and elsewhere, with the people who are concerned with actually going there and sending stuff there.
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by "there," i mean outer space. and i don't share... they don't share and neither do i share bezos�* view. mars is the most inhospitable place if ever you... of all the crazy places to want to go to, that takes the biscuit. you'd be far happier on the middle of the antarctic ice cap. at least you've got air to breathe. you haven't on mars. but you're a visionary thinker. isn't it incumbent upon people like you to have big ideas about how we humans can overcome the reality, which is that ultimately the sun will get hotter and hotter and our planet, whatever we do, will ultimately become unliveable. that is... in the long, long term, that's the reality we face. so shouldn't we humans be thinking about how to move beyond planet earth?
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no, our lifespan isjust in the order of 100 years max. and compared with that, the earth has got...we�*re talking millions of years. so there's no hurry whatever in normal circumstances, if the earth were just proceeding as it was before humans appeared. it's what we are doing that's doing the damage, not anything else. the earth naturally would go through its warm periods and ice ages and things like that for a good long time yet, we're talking millions of years, probably. mm. so your message would be we need to absolutely focus on what we do on this planet... exactly. ..rather than spend too much time wondering about where else we might travel to. we'd never get there because we'll have destroyed our base. now, you, again, in our conversation, have mentioned
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your own age several times. and it is, for me, it's fantastic to be able to talk to you when you're about to celebrate your 102nd birthday. i just wonder whether your own mortality colours your thoughts these days? you know, you've described how being 100 has made you feel wonderful. yes. how do you cope with thoughts of mortality? one of the strangest things was that... ..before i reached 100, i was always kind of slightly depressed about the thought. when i'm past that, well, i'm on the dust heap. if this is a dust heap, it's certainly a very lovely one. but the reality was so much better. that it's been a period
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of considerable happiness, i think. i don't know whether i'm taking sandy's... well, you're looking at your wife, who is sitting off camera. it's been a period of greater happiness, not less. mm. and i pass that on to others who are in the same queue that i'm in. i'm well aware that either of us may might get taken at some time in the near... not—too—dista nt future, but, well, that's... and in the meantime, you appear to be intent on still thinking, writing, having big thoughts about... all and this planet we live on. yes, very much so. with a smile on your face despite everything we've discussed. of course. i think we'll get by all right. james lovelock, it has been a pleasure having you on hardtalk again.
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and thank you for a very sensible and lively lot of questions. hello there. we had some pretty impressive downpours across different parts of the country on monday. the radar picture shows one of these bands of heavy rain working into north—east england, particularly north yorkshire, and then we have this second band of rain across the west london area. now in kew, in west london, we picked up 46 mm of rain from the shower band. that's pretty much smack bang on a whole month's of rain and the majority of that fell in just the space of two hours.
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if you're wondering what that looks like, it looks like this. three miles down the road in twickenham the roads flooded, and there were reports of flooding elsewhere as well. now, over the next few hours, those showers that we've seen by day will continue to very gradually fade away. the majority of us will eventually become drier over night with just an odd patch of rain still lingering into the east. temperatures around 12 to 1a celsius, feeling a little on the muggy side as well, particularly across parts of eastern england. now, for tuesday, we've got much more in the way of dry weather and sunshine with fewer showers, and for most of us, it's going to be a dry morning. the early morning cloud breaking, sunny spells developing widely and there should be quite a lot of that sunshine. but into the afternoon, we're likely to see some showers develop. look at this line of showers forming across parts of northwest england, the midlands and perhaps another one affecting wales down towards parts of dorset as well.
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now, those showers could be fairly heavy at times, but away from those shower bands, there should be a lot of dry weather to take us through the rest of the afternoon. temperatures pushing into the low 20s quite widely. it will feel warm in the sunshine. now, wednesday, we see a little weather front work into the far northwest of the uk. that's bringing some thicker cloud. might get a few patches of rain just skirting into the north and west of scotland. but otherwise, probably a bit more cloud around, but still some bright or sunny spells developing. the best of those towards the east of high ground and those temperatures still into the low 20s. it's going to be another day that will feel pleasantly warm where the sunshine breaks through the cloud. now, beyond that, it was the end of the week, the weekend and next week. this area of high pressure is going to be dominating our weather picture, and that means we've got a lengthy spell of dry and sunny weather. temperatures on these charts pushing into the high 20s. well, it wouldn't be surprising to see temperatures into the low 30s in some places next week.
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a prestigious one, but it isn't an enviable one.
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this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm sally bundock. in cuba, the biggest protests against the communist government in decades. president biden says the protests are a "clarion call for freedom." france warns health workers who refuse to be vaccinated against covid—19 they won't be paid. greece follows suit, after italy unveiled similar measures back in april. at least a0 people have been killed in a fire at a iraqi hospital treating coronavirus patients, in the city of nassiriya. many patients are missing. dozens of texas democrats fly out of the state to block a controversial republican voting law.


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