As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
— Robinson Jeffers
In any case a low-tech, relocalised economy would not deal what Lovelock regards as the fundamental problem: the rising numbers of human beings. Climate change has not always been caused by us; there appear to have been several large shifts before the human species existed. However, if the current global warming is anthropogenic (as Lovelock still firmly believes), human numbers play a critical role in the process.
When I suggested to him that the perennially unfashionable Thomas Malthus may in the long run be shown to have been on the right track, he responded: “Yes, John, I agree strongly with you that rising population is probably the greatest danger. If we had stayed at Malthus’s numbers, one billion, there would be no climate problem.”
Like nearly all economists, most greens insist that Malthus was wrong. The problem, they say, lies in the resource intensity of the western way of life; what we need to counter this is a global redistribution of power and wealth. I am not sure if Lovelock shares my view that this is an entirely utopian prospect, but he is clear that sustainable development – the current mantra – cannot deal with the challenges posed by a rising population. What is needed instead, he suggests, is sustainable retreat: a strategy of reducing the human impact on the planet by abandoning old modes of food production and embracing high-density urban living. (There are parallels between Lovelock’s ideas on these issues and those of Stewart Brand, the editor of the Whole Earth Catalog.)