compassion, collaboration & cooperation iN transistion
A meteorologist who broke down in tears, mused about a vasectomy, and vowed to give up
air travel - in the wake of the blockbuster report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) has found himself at the centre of a storm about personal responses
to climate change.
James Lovelock, now 92, talks about the freedom and frustrations of fifty years spent working outside the scientific establishment. Public interest in Gaia proliferated after the publication of his first book Gaia: a new look at life on earth in 1979; but the scientific community remained highly sceptical. For decades Gaia was ignored, dismissed and even ridiculed as a scientific theory. To this day, evolutionary biologists, in particular, take issue with the notion of a self-regulating planet. John Maynard Smith called it "an evil religion". Jonathon Porritt says Lovelock taught him "the value of cantankerous, obstinate independence, sticking to what you think is right and making those the cornerstones of your existence". Outspoken in support of nuclear power, Lovelock has offered to store a large amount of high level nuclear waste in a concrete box in his garden. On climate change, he believes it's too late for mankind to save the planet. At the start of his Life Scientific, Lovelock says he learnt more working as an apprentice for a photographic firm in south London than he ever did later at university. The best science, he insists, is done with your hands as well as your head. Thanks to Henry Higgins style elocution lessons aged 12, he was able to get a job at the well respected National Institute for Medical Research. Wartime science was all about solving ad -hoc problems and he loved it. A prolific inventor, he made a very early microwave oven to defrost hamsters and invented the Electron Capture Detector - an exquisitely sensitive device for detecting the presence of the tiniest quantities of gases in the atmosphere and led to a global ban on CFCs. Aged 40, Lovelock decided to go it alone and, he insists, the theory for which he is best known, Gaia, simply would not have been possible had he remained working within the scientific establishment.
Producer: Anna Buckley.
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For two decades, James Lovelock was seen by many of his scientific peers as an
eccentric loner who had ruined his otherwise solid reputation as an inventor and
pioneering environmental chemist by insisting that the earth was
“alive”, not very well, and living under the name of GAIA.
BUT as global warming has moved up the agenda, he has increasingly appeared
to be a prophet who deserves every honour the human race can bestow.
AN example of the change in acceptability of Gaia theories is the Amsterdam
declaration of the scientific communities of four international global change
research programmes — the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP),
the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change
(IHDP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the international
biodiversity programme DIVERSITAS — recognise that, in addition to the threat
of significant climate change …
THERE IS growing concern over the ever-increasing human
modification of other aspects of the global environment and
the consequent implications for human well-being.
They state -
“Research carried out over the past decade under the auspices of the four programmes
to address these concerns has shown that:
1. The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological, and human components.
The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability. The understanding of the natural dynamics of the Earth System has advanced greatly in recent years and provides a sound basis for evaluating the effects and consequences of human-driven change.
2. Human activities are significantly influencing Earth's environment in many ways in addition to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Anthropogenic changes to Earth's land surface, oceans, coasts and atmosphere and to biological diversity, the water cycle and biogeochemical cycles are clearly identifiable beyond natural variability. They are equal to some of the great forces of nature in
their extent and impact. Many are accelerating. Global change is real and is happening now.
3. Global change cannot be understood in terms of a simple cause-effect paradigm.
Human-driven changes cause multiple effects that cascade through the Earth System in complex ways. These effects interact with each other and with local- and regional-scale changes in multidimensional patterns that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to predict.
4. Earth System dynamics are characterised by critical thresholds and abrupt changes.
Human activities could inadvertently trigger such changes with severe consequences for Earth's environment and inhabitants. The Earth System has operated in different states over the last half million years, with abrupt transitions (a decade or less) sometimes occurring between them. Human activities have the potential to switch the Earth System to alternative modes of operation that may prove irreversible and less hospitable to humans and other life. The probability of a human-driven abrupt change in Earth's environment has yet to be quantified but is not negligible.
5. In terms of some key environmental parameters, the Earth System has moved well outside the range of the natural variability exhibited over the last half million years at least.
The nature of changes now occurring simultaneously in the Earth System, their magnitudes and rates of change are unprecedented. The Earth is currently operating in
a no-analogue state.”