One cure for global climate change may surprise you.
Jan 15, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 17 • By WILLIAM TUCKER
The Revenge of Gaia
James Lovelock is a strange duck. A British biologist who has made some extraordinary discoveries, such as the presence of chlorofluorocarbons in the Antarctic atmosphere, he is also the originator of the "Gaia hypothesis," the theory that the Earth is actually a living organism.
On the surface, the Gaia hypothesis seems little more than a return to paganism. As a scientific theory it offers only one intriguing proposition: The neo-Darwinistic suggestion that species which improve the environment for other species have a stronger chance of survival. Richard Dawkins and the disciples of the selfish gene have savaged Lovelock in debate over the last decade, but the idea does have some interesting possibilities. Building symbiotic relationships has survival value. An individual that can cooperate with other individuals probably does better in the long run, be it a species or a civilization.
What Dawkins is arguing against, of course, is the old notion that plants and animals can be purely altruistic. But there's an intriguing core to Lovelock's mythology that bears consideration.
All this has been argued in other forums, however. In The Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock is playing the Delphic oracle. He has access to Gaia while others don't, and is bringing back the word from the mountaintop. The message these days is simple: "Boy, is she mad!" Gaia has had it up to here with humanity and its polluting ways. In particular, global warming threatens to send temperatures off the charts and mankind to the brink of extinction. Those who survive may be living in caves.
All this would just be standard Al Gore agitprop, except for one thing. At 87, Lovelock has been around the block more than a few times and is not willing to entertain what he calls the "romantic idealism" of contemporary environmentalism. The Revenge of Gaia is foursquare for nuclear power and contemptuously dismissive of windmills, solar collectors, "renewables," and all the other "alternate-energy" strategies. Al Gore beware.
Here, for example, is Lovelock on the supposedly intractable problem of nuclear waste:
By contrast, here is his assessment of wind energy:
But nothing arouses his wrath--or is it the wrath of Gaia?--as does "biofuels," producing fuels from crops.
Lovelock is being branded as a curmudgeon whose arguments are self-serving. (In fact, he admits, his opposition to wind power went into high gear when a neighbor signed a contract to install one of those 40-story monstrosities on land just next to his farm in West Devon.) But Lovelock is hitting at environmentalism's soft underbelly. Many an urban romantic may fool himself that solar and renewables are going to be able to do the job, but Lovelock is not taking the bait.
Published last year in Great Britain, The Revenge of Gaia has already had a significant impact on the energy debate there. It apparently played a part in Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent endorsement of nuclear power before the G-8 Summit. (As soon as Blair announced his support for nuclear, the British Conservative party stupidly announced it would have to be against it.) As the nuclear option becomes more of a reality in this country, a fierce debate over its acceptability has already emerged in the environmental community. As more than a dozen utilities prepare to submit proposals for new reactors to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Lovelock's book could play a similar role here.
William Tucker is the author of a forthcoming book on the revival of nuclear power.