Goody goody! When I came home last night I found my Amazon shipment had arrived — The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (Penguin Books). This will constitute my bedside reading for the next few nights. It’s not a long book (177 pages, including glossary and index), but is said to update and encapsulate the influential and slightly eccentric 86-year-old scientist’s thinking about the state of the planet and mankind’s difficult relationship with it.
The book has just been released and I in fact pre-ordered it ahead of its publication date, so I’m happy to be an early reader, although advance copies were made available to book reviewers and it has been reviewed in the mainstream press. I will share my thoughts in this space as soon as I’ve finished it. As an aside, you should be wary of dismissive comments that are sometimes made about Lovelock, based on a misreading of his hypothesis that the Earth is a living organism. Lovelock does not think of the Earth in quack religion terms, and he’s under no illusions that the planet is “alive” in the usual sense. Instead, he uses analogies from nature, including how living organisms function, in order to create a model — a way of thinking, really — of the Earth so that we can better appreciate the planet’s self-regulating mechanisms. The Earth shed heat and functions in many complex ways that maintain a natural balance that is ideal for the organisms that live upon and within it, in a symbiotic relationship. (A good example is the way that plants inhale gases that are useless or even poisonous to animals, and exhale gases that animals depend upon. Over time, life has altered the chemical makeup of the atmosphere to suit life’s purposes.) Lovelock believes that humans are currently interfering with the Earth’s natural systems in such a way that we’re harming the vital components of our Spaceship Earth. Worse, many well-intentioned but ideologically-narrow environmentalists are pushing solutions that are unrealistic, and avoiding such things as nuclear power, which could give modern society the energy it needs to maintain and expand prosperity, which minimizing our ecological footprint.
Sometimes, critics who prefer “hard science” (or who have anti-environmental agendas) dismiss Lovelock’s metaphors and models, which is a pity because they are wonderful teaching tools. Once again, it’s a situation wherein you must read the author’s work and make up your own mind.