“The Revenge of Gaia,” by James Lovelock, Basic Books, August, 2006; 177 pgs.
By David L. Brown
If you enjoy horror stories, here is a fascinating book that will keep you up late at night. The plot involves a dire threat to the very existence of all human life, as our very own Mother Earth turns against her own creations.
James Lovelock is an environmental scientist known for his theory of Gaia, the metaphoric idea that the entire Earth is a self-regulating entity that responds to change in ways similar to those of living species of plants and animals. I do not intend to go into detail about the theory here, except to remind readers that there is much evidence that the concept of Gaia provides an accurate metaphor for the ways our planet has found to maintain the conditions required by life over more than three billion years. Those interested in knowing more can read Lovelock’s previous works, or the informative book The Coevolution of Climate and Life by Stephen H. Schneider and Randi Londer (1984).
In his latest book, Lovelock paints a gloomy picture of the near future, a time during which he now believes that global warming is about to rise precipitously, creating an ecological disaster that will make many parts of the planet unable to sustain life as we know it.
Basic to Lovelock’s theory is that the natural features of the Earth — such as forests, unbroken prairies, marshlands and peat bogs — are essential elements in the planet’s ability to maintain climate within the bounds required for life. By claiming those natural features for itself — burning or cutting down forests, plowing up prairies and meadows for monocultural agriculture, and draining wetlands — humankind has severely wounded its home planet, perhaps beyond the point of salvation.
Lovelock pulls no punches. It is clear that he believes we have already moved well past the tipping point from which there is no return. Sustainable alternatives are no longer viable solutions, and only what he terms a strategic retreat can save humanity. It is essential, he believes, to quickly reduce and even reverse the addition of carbon to the atmosphere. Even this may not be enough, for popular proposals for “sustainable” models could involve even further damage to Gaia (e.g., growing more crops to produce ethanol) and lead up a blind alley which will result only in more disaster.