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Gaia's inventor is a Galileo
for our times
Generally, one tries not to boost books or writers who
come on to programmes beyond the fact that they're there. James Lovelock,
however, has to be an exception. He is the man who devised the Gaia thesis, the
belief that the dynamic systems of this planet are intertwined in complex
patterns that keep Earth at the right temperature to sustain life - so that
algae, bacteria, cloud patterns, ice and mammals are in some kind of grand
It was a perception as radical in its way as Galileo's, and
derived from Lovelock's time at Nasa, although the name was suggested by the
novelist William Golding, a neighbour of Lovelock's, when the two of them were
walking down a village street.
"Gaia" took a battering. Its critics
included biologists who did not see how different species and systems could
evolve together. More dangerous, perhaps, were some of its friends, the hippy
romantics who didn't understand that Gaia was a beautiful metaphor for hard
science, and who thought Lovelock had proved the Earth was a living being.
He is winning his argument, and his final testament about the
catastrophe of global warming is probably the most important book for decades.
It is scary, but offers ways out many greens will recoil from - no to windfarms,
yes to nuclear power; forget sustainable development, but hurray for mobile
phones and the internet.
Lovelock deserves to stir up a Galileo-sized
political storm, though one trusts without the same personal