I could write a long blog entry on this, and I’ll probably track back later and write some installments on certain aspects of this book, but let me just state this here and now: Do yourself a favor and go on Amazon and order The Revenge of Gaia by British scientist James Lovelock (Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Book).
The book has just come out and represents the most up-to-date insights and “life reflections” of one of the late 20th century’s greatest ecological thinkers. The book clarifies some of Lovelock’s earlier big ideas, and incorporates his interpretation of the most recent cliamte change insights and data. I consider this book much better than Tim Flannery’s recent book The Weather Makers.
A couple of quick thoughts about why you should read this book. First off, this is a very VERY good book about the “science” of climate change, especially as it relates to whole earth systems. It’s a really useful and engaging “primer” that quickly brings you up to speed on the “things you must know” about the carbon cycle and such matters as how the weathering of rock takes carbon out of the atmosphere, and how the gases produced by sea algae seed the formation of clouds. (These algae will be decimated — in the proper sense of the term — if the upper layer of the oceans heat up, and/or become more acidic from increased carbonization. this will lead to less cloud formation, which will allow more sunlight to penetrate to the earth and lead to further heating, and so the positive feedback escalates…)
Second, I enjoyed the sections of the book in which Lovelock, who has lived in the countryside and really understands nature from direct observation, condemns the — shall we say, “nonrigorous” — point of view of many “urban” elitist environmentalists. Lovelock tells quite a few fascinating stories about how the city-dwelling environmentalists have “romantic” ideas about the countryside, which have led them to support foolish ideas that “sound good” but in reality cause environmental harm.
Third, Lovelock makes what I consider to be the best-reasoned, lucid and convincing argument in favor of why (brace yourself!) we need to build nuclear power plants as an intermediate step in preserving our power-reliant civilization while we transition to a more sustainable way of life, and develop the potential of fusion and other technologies that are in their infancy. Taking the reader through a scientific and logical set of arguments, Lovelock pleads that it will take at least 30 or 40 years for the technologies we need to reach their potential and begin widespread adoption. But we don’t have that much time to drastically curtail our CO2 emissions.
Lovelock is extremely disdainful of the notion that solar or wind power, and such “renewables” as ethanol produced from corn, can make much of a serious dent in making up the power deficit. This is not at all a matter of ideology for Lovelock — he’d love it if any of these could really make up the difference. But again he brings the cool logic of a scientific mind (a genuis level one, I think) to bear on the issue and demolishes — and I mean demolishes — the arguments and claims that these alternative energy sources will get us out of our current pickle. Don’t take my word for it — buy the book and read it, and I promise you that you’ll never be suckered in again by the rhetoric of the urban environmentalists in regard to that nonsense.
I predict that quite a few environmentalists will ignore or dismiss Lovelock’s book because his free-thinking ideas threaten some of their most cherished concepts. I suspect they’ll dismiss him as much as will some of the corporate interests out there. It’ll be interesting to see.
As a postscript, let me just add that I found this book so powerful as to be almost life-changing. I’m a bit shell-shocked, frankly, and have been moping about for quite a few days absorbing its implications, not able to be quite as productive as normal. It’s sort of the intellectual equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. Right now my world view is upside down compared to what it was before I read the book. And I’m a very skeptical, even cynical, person. So I suggest you read the book on your summer holiday, at the cottage or whatnot, because you really don’t want to read this book on the weekend and then have to face work on Monday morning as I did. (The book isn’t depressing, by the way. I’m referring to the power of the ideas, some of which knocked me for a loop.)