James Lovelock – a Final Warning

James Ephraim Lovelock (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist, author, researcher and environmentalist. He derives his greatest fame from devising and propagating the Gaia hypothesis, in which he states that the earth functions as a kind of superorganism.

He is best known as the father of this Gaia hypothesis; the idea that all parts of our planet form a complex interacting system, like a single organism. His new book shows Gaia in trouble. In this interview, Lovelock sounds a final warning for planet earth and talks enthusiastically about his (then) upcoming space trip.

Gaia hypothesis

Although the Gaia hypothesis was quickly embraced by the environmental movement, it met with a lot of skepticism in scientific circles. Well-known critics of the Gaia hypothesis are Richard Dawkins and Ford Doolittle. In short, this criticism boils down to the fact that the mechanism of natural selection, which applies to individual organisms, is at odds with the emergence of a situation of homeostasis at the planetary level. Lovelock refuted the criticism with models, such as Daisy World, that show how effects at the level of the individual organism can affect planetary homeostasis. However, it is not yet clear to what extent the mechanisms of Daisy World apply to the full complexity of our biosphere and climate.

Curriculum vitae

Lovelock was born in Letchworth Garden City, a town in the English county of Hertfordshire. He studied chemistry at the University of Manchester and then joined the Institute for Medical Research in London. In 1948 he received his PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In the US, he conducted research at Yale, Baylor University, and Harvard University. Lovelock has made a large number of inventions, some of which have been used by NASA in the study of the planets. While working at NASA, Lovelock developed the Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock worked at NASA in the 60s on the Viking program that consisted of two unmanned space flights to Mars. He determined that the Martian atmosphere is stable in composition, and consists of small amounts of oxygen, methane, and hydrogen, and an abundance of carbon dioxide. This was an important indication of the lack of life on Mars. Despite this, NASA decided to run the program, looking for clues to life, but NASA has not found this to date. Lovelock was the inventor of the Electron Capture Detector, which can detect very small concentrations of chemicals in the atmosphere. This invention contributed to discovering the role that CFCs play in ozone depletion. Lovelock became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, was president of the Marine Biological Association from 1986 to 1990 and in 1990 received the first Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More information on James Lovelock’s website: http://www.jameslovelock.org