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The Revenge of Gaia

By February 13, 2006July 14th, 20192 Comments

The Guardian reviews James Lovelock’s updated warn­ing to human­ity about the state of our planet:

Lovelock is at pains to sug­gest escape routes, most con­tro­ver­sially by call­ing for the rap­id expan­sion of nuc­le­ar energy pro­grammes, the one large-scale, carbon-free type of power gen­er­a­tion we possess.


  • graham says:

    The Revenge of Gaia: James Lovelock – Allen Lane 2006

    James Lovelock is either preter­nat­ur­ally young for his 80 years or someone is try­ing to kid us with the photo on the fly­cov­er. Perhaps this is an aspect of the same van­ity and disin­genu­ous­ness which mars the book as a whole. The sur­face text is a short polem­ic pre­dict­ing the immin­ent end of civil­isa­tion via run­away glob­al warm­ing, and a rough guide to how the worst effects might be ameli­or­ated. A major theme is the need to keep oth­er per­ceived risks in per­spect­ive. The dangers of nuc­le­ar radi­ation and waste, can­cer, con­tam­in­a­tion of food by pesti­cides etc, are all fun­da­ment­ally trivi­al com­pared with the danger presen­ted by glob­al warm­ing. This might all be val­id, but the read­er­’s trust is under­mined by an unat­tract­ive sub-text which might be sum­mar­ised as some­thing like:
    ” I, me, James Lovelock, inven­ted a revolu­tion­ary the­ory about the nature of life on earth. I was way ahead of my time. I was a great innov­at­or, and to prove it have scars of many arrows in my back fired by jeal­ous, third rate sci­entif­ic time serv­ers. They have now all been proved wrong and are now eat­ing dust or are con­verts. Now I am a humble guru, proph­et and ser­vant of Gaia, com­fort­ably ensconced in my lovely home in Devon, reluct­antly point­ing to the com­ing apo­ca­lypse that only I and my the­ory can prop­erly descry. ”
    Global warm­ing and the pos­sibly immin­ent end of the world as we know it is about as ser­i­ous a top­ic as you can get, but this book does not really rise to it. As a wan­na­bee Biblical proph­et Lovelock is too ego­centric, too petu­lant, too pre­oc­cu­pied with old aca­dem­ic battles, to carry us for­ward with a simple, power­ful vis­ion of the eco­lo­gic­al crimes and pos­sible redemp­tions of human­ity. At the same time his sci­ence is too polem­ic­al, too per­son­al, and often too diver­gent. We need our sci­ence to be cool, exact in its reach and in its uncer­tain­ties. He is a great name drop­per – I guess this book might be his last chance to pat all his friends on the back. It leads some­times to bathos – “we are for­tu­nate in Britain to have had our sci­ence led by those tower­ing fig­ures Lord May and Sir David King.…” Who? Towering up there with Copernicus, Einstein and .…James Lovelock perhaps?
    He strays into polit­ics, soci­ology, anthro­po­logy, eco­nom­ics, reli­gion and indeed most areas of human endeav­our. This is an admir­able attempt to syn­thes­ise and go bey­ond tra­di­tion­al aca­dem­ic divi­sions of labour – but often this leads to what can seem rather ridicu­lous gen­er­al­isa­tions and creaky meta­phors. For example, it is embar­rass­ingly reduc­tion­ist (some­thing he fre­quently com­plains of in oth­ers) to claim that “Terrorism and gen­o­cide both res­ult from our tri­bal natures”. He describes him­self as a “physician” to our sick plan­et earth – which is both a gran­di­ose self-description and an inac­cur­ate meta­phor. He has stud­ied and writ­ten books – I hope my phys­i­cian does some­thing more prac­tic­al than that when I next go to the surgery.
    The thrust of the book is prob­ably right. Global warm­ing is now prob­ably out of con­trol, and at best human­ity can stage a planned retreat to a more sus­tain­able way of life, using nuc­le­ar power as a step­ping stone to some­thing bet­ter in the cen­tur­ies ahead. At worst, we and the plan­et are set to fry for the next couple of hun­dred thou­sand years. I’ll be sur­prised if this book has the impact it should have. And it won’t just be because we are all too frightened, ignor­ant or sloth­ful to face the facts( unlike our hero­ic author and innov­at­or), but because the book simply doesn’t work well enough as either sci­ence or pas­sion­ate polemic.

  • dano says:

    Er, thanks mate. I think.