LONDON Climate change will wipe out most life on Earth by the end of this century and mankind is too late to avert catastrophe, a leading British climate scientist said.
James Lovelock, 89, famous for his Gaia theory of the Earth being a kind of living organism, said higher temperatures will turn parts of the world into desert and raise sea levels, flooding other regions.
His apocalyptic theory foresees crop failures, drought and death on an unprecedented scale. The population of this hot, barren world could shrink from about seven billion to one billion by 2100 as people compete for ever-scarcer resources.
"It will be death on a grand scale from famine and lack of water," Lovelock told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. "It could be a reduction to a billion (people) or less."
By 2040, temperatures in European cities will rise to an average of 110 Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) in summer, the same as Baghdad and parts of Europe in the 2003 heatwave.
"The land will gradually revert to scrub and desert. You can look at as if the Sahara were steadily moving into Europe. It's not just Europe; the whole world will be changing in that way."
Attempts to cut emissions of planet-warming gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in an attempt to reduce the risks are probably doomed to failure, he added.
Even if the world found a way of cutting emissions to zero, it is now too late to cool the Earth.
"It is a bit like a supertanker. You can't make it stop by just turning the engines off," he said before the release of a new book on climate change.
"It will go on for a long, long time. If by some magic you could suddenly bring the C02 down, it wouldn't suddenly cool off."
Campaigns to promote recycling and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power are a waste of time, Lovelock adds, although he concedes that nuclear power will help meet growing demand for energy.
While financial markets and politicians promote carbon emissions trading schemes to reduce emissions and help the environment, Lovelock says they, too, will have little effect.
"I don't see the efforts of governments around the world succeeding in doing anything significant to cut back the emissions of carbon dioxide," he said.
Efforts should instead be focused on creating safe havens in areas which will escape the worst effects of climate change.
In his book, "The Vanishing Face of Gaia," he adds: "We have to stop pretending that there is any possible way of returning to that lush, comfortable and beautiful Earth we left behind some time in the 20th century."
The destruction of natural ecosystems for farmland, deforestation and the rapid growth of the human race and livestock have all exacerbated the problem, he added.
Scientists should not underestimate the crucial role of the oceans as an indicator of rising temperatures and tool for reducing carbon dioxide, Lovelock argues.
"Most of the Earth's surface is the ocean. That holds 800 times more than the atmosphere or the land. And there is no question that the ocean is steadily warming," he said.
A former skeptic of doom-laden predictions, Lovelock admits he is not entirely comfortable with his role as a modern-day Cassandra, the cursed prophetess of Greek mythology whose counsel was ignored.
However, he says the scale and speed of the looming crisis are so great he must speak out. He is still struck by the public's apparent lack of urgency about the problem.
"Don't blame me for the terrible predictions," said Lovelock, a sprightly, trim figure with silver hair who looks younger than his age and was soberly dressed in navy jumper, tie and casual trousers.
"The U.N.'s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) even in its 2001 report was suggesting temperatures by 2040 and 2050 that were devastatingly hot. All I'm doing is drawing people's attention to it."
(Editing by Michael Roddy)