We are reposting this text in fragments (as is our nature) in relation to the resurgent theorytwitter buzz. Read Part 1 here. All comments and discussion welcome.
Desert, by Anonymous
2. It’s Later Than We Thought
Observed climate change is faster than expected
One recurring theme in environmentalism is that the apocalypse is always imminent but forever deferred. Every generation seems to have one last chance to save the planet. Biologist Barry Commoner said back in 1970: “We are in a period of grace, we have the time — perhaps a generation — in which to save the environment from the final effects of the violence we have already done to it.”  Similar pronouncements can be heard today but the period of grace is probably over. Back in 1990 the editors of The Ecologist set out a general evaluation of the state of the earth in 5000 Days to Save the Planet:
Today we are told that our planet is in crisis, that we are destroying and polluting our way to a global catastrophe… We may have as little as fifteen years, perhaps as short a time as 5000 days to save the planet… One of the major concerns arising out of the Gaia theory is that we are pushing natural processes beyond their capacity to maintain an atmosphere fit for higher forms of life. Beyond a certain point, the system may flip to an entirely new state which would be extremely uncomfortable for life as we know it… once triggered, the change to the new state could occur with extreme rapidity. 
By 2005 the countdown envisaged in the title had reached zero and the originator of the Gaia theory, James Lovelock, was writing The Revenge of Gaiawhere he would state that he thought the living earth was probably now moving irrevocably to a hot state. Lovelock came to this conclusion primarily as a result of seeing scientific observations of climate change surpassing what most predictions said was meant to be happening. In an address to the Royal Society he stated:
The positive feedback on heating from the melting of floating Arctic and Antarctic ice alone is causing an acceleration of system driven heating whose total will soon or already be greater than that from all of the pollution CO2 that we have so far added. This suggests that implementing Kyoto or some super Kyoto is most unlikely to succeed… we have to understand that the Earth System is now in positive feedback and is moving ineluctably towards the stable hot state of past climates. 
Lovelock’s public advocacy of nuclear power,  disbelief in wind farms as a panacea and his clear statements that massive climate change is now probably inevitable has made him unpopular with many greens. He’s definitely ‘off-message’. It’s rather inconvenient, then, that he’s got such a good environmental and scientific pedigree. As a polymath in his nineties he has worked in many fields. Notably, he invented the Electron Capture Detector that made the discovery of the Ozone Hole and the writing of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring  possible. His initially heretical Gaia hypothesis, of a self managing living earth, is now widely accepted under the title Earth System Science. He’s long argued for wild land expansion and been sympathetic to ecological defence actions. As an avid hiker he even carried out a personal bombing campaign around the right to roam way back in the 1930s! His detractors often admire his pioneering work but say (in a somewhat ageist manner) that he has now gone a bit batty. The real problem, though, is that he has made a professional career of being beholden to no-one else’s ideology or pay-packet. As such he has the capacity to say what many in scientific and environmental institutions are thinking but are afraid to say so directly in public. Lovelock thinks that a range of factors have led to a consistent under-diagnosis of the extent of human effects on the earth. These factors include:
A speed and complexity of change which research/publication schedules cannot keep up with.
A failure to see and comprehend the living earth as a dynamic self-regulating system.
A lack of joined up thinking due to academic compartmentalisation.
Governmental pressures on the writing of IPCC synthesis reports. 
The possibly considerable masking of present heating by global dimming. 
It’s beyond the scope of this text to give an overall summation of Lovelock’s thinking, never mind the wider science around global heating. Part of the nature of the problem is that by the time you read this the science will have moved on considerably. If you are interested have a look at the sources I have referenced and read wider yourself. However while the details may vary the inexorable direction of much of the science seems to be that we are probably heading to a considerably hotter earth, and fast. Recent observations put us further down the road than many of us thought even a few years ago. Decades later down the road. Combined with inertia around reducing carbon emissions this makes the chances of ‘stopping’ massive climate change probably rather slight.
While NGOs are still babbling about stopping a two degrees warming, increasingly many climate scientists are discussing a four degree warming by end of the century or even as early as 2060.  This is by no means a fringe worry. The 2007 IPCC report predicted a rise of between 2 and 6.4°C this century. Bob Watson, its former chairman has warned that the “world should work on mitigation and adaptation strategies to ‘prepare for 4°C of warming.’”  This is bad enough but Lovelock goes further and cites a number of feedback mechanisms he thinks are already moving us to an even hotter state, of which the melting of sea ice mentioned above is the most well known. What could this new hot state look like? Some highlights:
Hot deserts spreading over much of the global south and into southern and even some of central Europe.
Cold deserts predominantly in the global north retracting to leave new frontier land in Siberia, Scandinavia, Canada, Greenland, Alaska and even to a certain extent in the Antarctic.
Mass attempts at migration from arid zones to the still habitable areas.
Mass human die-off coupled with accelerating species extinctions.
Lovelock puts it rather bluntly:
Humans are in a pretty difficult position and I don’t think they are clever enough to handle what’s ahead. I think they’ll survive as a species all right, but the cull during this century is going to be huge… The number remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. 
Of course, I don’t know this is a true picture of present and future climate change . The true complexity of the Earth System (and human social dynamics within it) is probably beyond our comprehension (definitely beyond mine) and models should not be confused with reality. My informed hunch (that’s all one has in the fool-making business of describing the future) is that the picture painted is probably a reasonable approximation. You may not think so, but I would ask that you run with me as it’s a possibility worth considering. That hunch is as much informed by an anarchist critique of capitalism as it is a reading of climate science. Looking around me, it’s a lovely bright day and the leaves of the trees are almost shining; but little in the society in which I live indicates to me that a problem of the scale and complexity of climate change is going to get fixed. Given that, I feel that the big question posed is not so much if we will reach a world somewhat resembling that outlined above but when.
Lovelock is seriously proposing that such a world (or to be more accurate, such worlds) will emerge by the end of this century, and that emergence trends will start to become obvious by mid century. It could take longer, but either way it may be advantageous to take such shifts into consideration when thinking about what we want to achieve in our lives.
Here, to be clear, we are not talking about a millennial apocalypse, though it may feel like that to some caught in its more horrible or exciting moments. Rather we are talking about massive accelerating change. James Hansen (NASA), comments:
If we wish to preserve a planet similar to that in which civilization developed and to which life adapted, Palaeolithic evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.