James Lovelock

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James Lovelock in 2005

Dr James Ephraim Lovelock CH CBE FRS (26 July 1919 – 26 July 2022) was a British independent scientist, author, researcher, environmentalist and futurologist. He is most famous for proposing and popularizing the Gaia hypothesis, in which he postulates that the Earth functions as a kind of superorganism (a term coined by Lynn Margulis).


  • Neither Lynn Margulis nor I have ever proposed a teleological hypothesis. Nowhere in our writing do we express the idea that planetary self-regulation is purposeful, or involves planetary foresight or planning by the biota. … Yet we met persistent, almost dogmatic, criticism that our hypothesis is teleological.
    • Healing Gaia (1991)
  • If there were a billion people living on the planet, we could do whatever we please. But there are nearly seven billion. At this scale, life as we know it today is not sustainable.
    • How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010) as quoted by Jeff Goodell
  • Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space. This "global dimming" is transient and could disappear in a few days like the smoke that it is, leaving us fully exposed to the heat of the global greenhouse. We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.
    • "James Lovelock: The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years". The Independent (January 16, 2006)
  • Challenging the conventional wisdom is the way to make waves in science.

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979)[edit]

  • The climate and the chemical properties of the Earth now and throughout its history seem always to have been optimal for life. For this to have happened by chance is as unlikely as to survive unscathed a drive blindfold through rush hour traffic.
  • In the current fashionable denigration of technology, it is easy to forget that nuclear fission is a natural process. If something as intricate as life can assemble by accident, we need not marvel at the fission reactor, a relatively simple contraption, doing likewise.
  • Our planet... consists largely of lumps of fall-out from a star-sized hydrogen bomb...Within our bodies, no less than three million atoms rendered unstable in that event still erupt every minute, releasing a tiny fraction of the energy stored from that fierce fire of long ago.
  • We have since defined Gaia as a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.

"The Man Who Named the World" (1990)[edit]

  • Life has to be a planetary phenomenon. You could no more have a partially occupied planet than you could half a cat or half a dog.
  • Life has to take charge of its environment and evolve with it.
  • If you were an artist or novelist, or a poet or somebody like that, nobody would think it odd if you worked in your own home. In science there's none of this at all. I'm almost the only independent scientist in Britain. Everybody else works in large institutions, universities, or industrial labs. Why should one expect scientists to work that way?
  • Bacteria … have been here for three and a half billion years, and without them we have no chance whatsoever of survival. Humans are something very recent, like the froth on top of a glass of beer.
  • In Gaia, there's no such thing as pollution. The rules of the game are that any species that produces something noxious that affects the environment is doomed. Imagine there's some green bug … that decides it would be a neat trick to make chlorine. That bug is not going to succeed. If it doesn't kill itself off, it will certainly kill off its progeny, and destroy the environment around it and have no food to eat.

Interview with The Guardian (29 March 2010)[edit]

  • I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change. … The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful.
  • Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.
  • Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science. … I'm not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever do. You've got to have standards.

Interview with The Guardian (15 June 2012)[edit]

  • One thing being a scientist has taught me is that you can never be certain about anything. You never know the truth. You can only approach it and hope you get a bit nearer to it each time. You iterate towards the truth. You don't know it.

Quotes about Lovelock[edit]

  • The scientific backgrounds and areas of expertise of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis turned out to be a perfect match. Margulis had no problem answering Lovelock's many questions about the biological origins of atmospheric gases, while Lovelock contributed concepts from chemistry, thermodynamics, and cybernetics to the emerging Gaia theory. Thus the two scientists were able gradually to identify a complex network of feedback loops that—so they hypothesized—bring about the self-regulation of the planetary system [for Earth].
  • Lovelock spent months in underground bomb shelters studying how viruses are transmitted and ended up inventing the first aerosol disinfectant. A few years later, he became interested in … cryogenics. … He was the first to understand how cellular structures respond to cold temperatures and developed a means to freeze and thaw animals and their sperm that is still in use today. But Lovelock's most important invention was the electron capture detector (ECD). … Lovelock made a discovery that was even more important than his invention of the ECD. Lovelace hitched a ride … to Antarctica, where he used a jury-rigged ECD to detect the build-up of CFCs ….
    • Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010)
  • The thing I fear worst is that we won't do anything at all. We won't explore geoengineering; we won't cut greenhouse gas pollution in any significant way; we won't change our lives. We will argue about it on TV and write books and make movies and hang banners on the smokestacks of coal plants, and nothing much will change. We will just ride into the dark apocalypse that James Lovelock fears, a future of war and starvation and disease driven by the changes on our superheated planet.
    • Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010)
  • The first question that Lovelock set out to answer was Dawkins' question about how Gaia "could evolve her global adaptations by the ordinary processes of Darwinian selection acting within one planet." … Lovelock was determined to prove him wrong. … A drastic simplification was required—a scientific model, a set of equations, which could be used to highlight one aspect of how the world works. … Lovelock's experience in systems design helped him. … Lovelock needed a mathematician who could write a paper in language that mathematicians could accept, and Watson is a wizz at math. … The beauty of Daisyworld as a system lies in a combination of positive and negative feedback. … But the crucial point is that at every stage every single daisy is acting in accordance with Dawkins' doctrine of the selfish gene. … The temperature on Daisyworld is regulated without any need for foresight or planning by the daisies. No wonder Lovelock calls Daisyworld "my proudest scientific achievement."

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