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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  October 27, 2021 4:30am-5:01am BST

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a brazilian senate inquiry has given final approval to a report recommending president jair bolsornaro faces a series of criminal indictments, over his handling of the world's second highest covid death toll — and the misuse of public funds. the vote, by the 11—member committee, passed 7—4. new details have emerged about the fatal shooting on an alec baldwin film set. a us district attorney investigating the incident says a real gun, nota prop, was involved — and that "an enormous amount of bullets" were recovered. the prosecuter also stressed that "criminal charges aren't ruled out." the queen will not attend the cop26 climate change summit in glasgow next week following medical advice to rest. buckingham palace said she "regretfully" agreed not to host a major reception for world leaders but would deliver her address to delegates in a pre—recorded video message instead.
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now on bbc news, time for hardtalk. 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.
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what i mean is it it's equivalent to that, in a planet's terms. its time is approaching. 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
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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 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.
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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 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? yes, though i think they're
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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
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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, 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 won't be too hot. you, though, have always been
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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
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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. 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.
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what is much more insane 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
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so much damage and it's shut down, they've got to get the energy from somewhere 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, that natural evolution will produce more
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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
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about what should and shouldn't 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! well, i know, but most people haven't read it!
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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
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as slow as the speed 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 discussed in this interview, we also have managed to emit
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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. itjust intrigued me that
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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
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and sending stuff there. 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? no, our lifespan isjust
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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 your own age several times.
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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.
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that it's been a period 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. and thank you for a very
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sensible and lively lot of questions. hello there. it is going to stay very mild over the next few days but there is more rain in the forecast and the rain is moving southwards at the moment so the wetter weather in the next few days, more likely to be in the southern uplands of scotland, cumbria in north west england and by thursday, for western parts of wales and some flooding is likely as well. the main focus of the rain is on that weather front there, and ahead of it we are drawing up the winds all the way from the tropics, over the azores and into the uk, which is why it's so unusually mild. in northern ireland on tuesday, temperatures reached 17 degrees ahead of the rain. it's normally around 11
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or 12 degrees at best at this time of the year. and these are the temperatures we're starting with on wednesday morning, a very mild 15 or 16 degrees. but this is where the rain is and it's not going to shift position through much of the day. we've got the rain threatening to come back into eastern parts of northern ireland, up towards the central belt of scotland. most of the rain in southern scotland, north—west england — especially cumbria and into north west wales. north of that rain band some sunshine, a few sharp showers south of the rain band like tuesday, a lot of cloud around, a bit of sunshine from time to time. those temperatures could be even higher — around 18 celsius. but that rain is going to be continuing throughout the day across southern scotland and north—west england. by the end of the day, 90 millimetres possibly in the southern uplands, may be double that over the higher ground in cumbria, which is why we are going to see some impact and that wet weather continues overnight as well. that stream of warm, wet weather coming in on that weather front. the position of the rain will fluctuate a little bit and we may start to see a few changes on thursday.
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scotland and northern ireland, perhaps brightening up a bit more with some showers — these could be quite heavy, mind you. still got that rain across some parts of southern scotland, northern england, wales and the south—west of england this time, but ahead of it through the midlands, east anglia, the south—east it's still dry and bright and those temperatures hitting 17 degrees. but the wetter weather continues overnight. those weather fronts are still on the scene, perhaps forming an area of low pressure. i think the details may change as we head into friday, it's getting rather more messy. looks on the whole like it's going to be a day of sunshine or longer spells of rain. it may start to brighten up across more of the country, western areas turning a bit drier. but some of that rain pushing into the eastern side of england this time and temperatures won't be quite as high, they begin to fall away from the north west.
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this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. a vote in the brazilian senate reccomends, president bolsonaro face criminal charges over his handling of the pandemic. moldova and russia enter a fresh round of negotiations — with moscow still threatening to force energy giant gazprom to cut off gas supplies. new details emerge over the fatal shooting on the alec baldwin film set — the gun used was a real one, and criminal charges aren't ruled out. it's budget day here in the uk — the chancellor promises a "new age of optimism" but will soaring living costs leave people worse off? and — the south african born, hollywood a—lister, backing a campaign to allow greater levels of vaccine production — on her home continent.


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