Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/3/2009 (4655 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
But he proved to be the real thing and later put in 20 years in medical research, invented a few hush-hush items for Britain's spy agency, and worked on the nascent NASA space program, eventually looking for ways to detect life on other planets. Few will likely remember him for those accomplishments.
But Lovelock, now in his 90s, will be forever remembered for developing the Gaia concept, which holds that Earth acts like a complex, living, self-regulating organism. His thoughts made him the unwilling father of a quasi-religious cult.
A couple weeks ago, he all but repudiated his Gaia worshippers, proclaiming that it's too late to save Earth, that we were never capable of saving Earth in the first place, and that if Gaia exists at all, she is already rendering Earth unfit for widespread human habitation.
If Gaia is a man-made goddess and a tall, slowly churning windmill is her talisman, he says, we are worshipping falsely.
The green movement, the international carbon trading system, alternative energy sources, it's all a con, says Lovelock. At the very best, they are coming a century late.
At worst, they are diverting resources and attention from better efforts that deal with reality.
Lovelock's reality: the planet is warming and there's nothing we can do to stop it from warming more. All our efforts now, says the one-time guru of the environmentalist alternative, is to save the people we still can save, and preserve the food-producing regions that will still be left (which includes Canada), while the rest of the planet (including most of Europe, Asia and the southern half of North America) turns to desert.
Those will just be the parts of Earth that are still above sea level.
Lovelock wrote an article for the Sunday Times last month extracted from his book The Vanishing Face of Gaia in London that likened human reaction to the looming ecological crisis to that of a patient diagnosed with an incurable disease. First, there is denial, then a desperate search for a miracle cure, then acceptance.
Lovelock says the sooner we get to acceptance, the better.
Just the breath of seven billion humans adds 23 per cent of all the carbon emissions going into the Earth's atmosphere, he says.
Add in all our pets and farm animals, and the total ramps up to more than 50 per cent. That's more than 10 times the amount of all airline traffic in the world.
"Just cutting back on fossil-fuel burning, energy use and the destruction of natural forests will not be a sufficient answer to global heating," he wrote, "not least because it seems climate change can happen faster that we can respond to it and may be irreversible."
Lovelock's aim was to spur Britain to an effort similar to what it took to survive the last war: universal acceptance of rationing and personal sacrifice, lowered expectations of personal comfort, and a civilization that does not degenerate into mobs ruled by local warlords.
His article puts both the industry seeking to profit from alternative energy, and the National Geographic article on our culture's thirst for oil via Alberta's tarsands, into perspective.
Lovelock never sought to prove that Gaia is a real being and he could be wrong on the pace of the looming apocalypse. But he has been right on a whole lot of observations about how planets work.
The era of denial about global warming is already long past.
If you believe in the future at all, you have to hope that Lovelock is wrong and that our efforts to slow this process really can bear fruit (which in Lovelock's view, includes rapid, exponential growth of nuclear energy).
Lovelock concludes: "Let us prove Garrett Hardin, the American biologist, wrong when he said gloomily in 1968 that, as humans are naturally selfish, our condition is truly tragic. ... We can prove him wrong by surviving."
--The Canadian Press