The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning
James Lovelock Allen Lane, UK, 2009, ISBN 9781846141850
By Stephan Harding
June 29, 2010 “Resurgence” — It is often said that it takes great ideas in science some forty years to gain widespread acceptance. Sadly for us all, James Lovelock’s concept of a self-regulating Earth has fitted this mould with a frustrating and yet thoroughly predictable punctuality: had acceptance come sooner we would by now have been much further advanced in our understanding of the dangers of climate change.
It was in 1965, whilst thinking of a workable life-detection experiment for a NASA mission to Mars, that Lovelock received a “flash of enlightenment” which would lead him to overturn a notion widely held by scientists at the time: that living beings are merely passive passengers on an Earth governed mostly by geological, chemical and physical processes. Not so, said Lovelock – life’s tightly coupled feedbacks with the abiotic domains of atmosphere, rocks and water configure the Earth into a dynamic, evolving planet that has actively maintained its surface in a state suitable for life over thousands of millions of years despite the vagaries of plate tectonics and an ever-brightening sun.