Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

Lovelock, James. The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity. New York : Basic Books, 2006.

Review by Mark Schneider

James Lovelock has a way of writing that sometimes inspires, sometimes irritates. He was not the first person to put forth the notion that the atmosphere, the geology, and the biology of the earth all affect one another in profound ways over geologic time, or even that large scale operation of planetary systems are not unlike those of a living organism. However, in his Gaia hypothesis, he pushed the envelope by claiming the earth system is a living organism, and that it has self-healing mechanisms that have evolved in a Darwinian sense. He was 70 in 1979 when he wrote his first in a string of Gaia books, and as a self-identified “independent scientist,” he didn’t have to cater to anyone.

This latest Gaia book takes a highly provocative tone, making a strong (and to me, plausible) case that overpopulation, overdevelopment, and use of fossil fuels have pushed the earth system beyond the ability of natural biological and climatological regulatory systems to control. He further argues that once we have left this stability, most of the effects of climate change (e.g. melting of polar ice) will only further accelerate global warming (or heating, as Lovelock prefers). He’s not just talking tough times for the ski resorts here, but global famine and death from droughts, storms and flooding. Scary stuff!

What originally drew me to read this book was that, in contrast to many environmentalists, he is not averse to high tech solutions to such problems. For example, he is a strong (I mean STRONG) advocate of nuclear power—ultimately fusion, but regular fission reactors now—as an essential step to minimizing the climate change. He seriously discusses the possibility of using a space-mounted sunshade, and of running jet planes on high sulfur fuel to increase high altitude smog as a heat shield. He even suggests “Gaia as religion” to indoctrinate the young—pretty provocative.

Lovelock recognizes many think he is wrong on various points, and seems to respect that. He seems to understand that being understated is not what is needed now. This is not a scientific treatise, but a science-based call to action, or maybe better, a plea from Mother Earth. Read it!

4th floor Science Library QH343.4 .L694x 2006

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