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Posts Tagged ‘James Lovelock’

The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 30, 2014


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 11/03/2013

Publisher – Penguin; Year of Publication – 2006; Pages – 211

In “The Revenge of Gaia” there is a quote from Mother Theresa said to have been given in 1988, “Why should we care about the Earth when our duty is to the poor and the sick among us. God will take care of the Earth”. Probably many people gave a similar line to Noah before he embarked on his Ark to escape the Great Flood. James Lovelock is a noted environmentalist and the originator of the Gaia hypothesis. It was his work with NASA and his subsequent discovery of the electron capture detector that eventually paved the way for the discovery of the causes to ozone layer depletion. “The Revenge of Gaia” is one of the many the books he has written about his Gaia hypothesis. The Gaia theory, the name taken from the Greek mother goddess, represents Earth as a self regulating entity who keeps herself healthy by physical and chemical changes. But what is healthy for her may not be healthy for us.

Most people forget about their earliest biology classes about the time when the planet was thriving with plant life and very little oxygen. Oxygen, a poisonous substance for the carbon dioxide breathing plants, slowly got its upper hand in the atmosphere due to centuries of its excretion during photosynthesis, enabling the evolution of oxygen breathing animal life. The book is peppered with a wide range of scientific data, among which the most interesting that I found was the one related to algae. The planktons that live in our oceans have seen their liveable area drastically reduce as Earth heated up and as a result their impact on climate, or the lack of it, has the dressing of the harbinger of doom.

Surprisingly for an environmentalist, Lovelock is in favour of many technologies his contemporaries dissuade from – Nuclear energy and DDT. The former, despite all the ruckus over Fukushima in the recent past, remains one of the cleanest non polluting energy source in the world, while the latter used in the right quantities remains an excellent insecticide and preventer of malaria in regions where it is not banned.

In the end the book comes off a touch contradictory. The author sums up saying that the events, as they are now, can only rapidly depopulate the world of human beings and not lead to extinction. As a solution however he suggests reducing the human population to one billion so that the planet can better regulate herself and the living beings on her.

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