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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading
We should salute the (now) 89 -year-old author, James Ephraim Lovelock (Ephraim is Hebrew for fruitful): an independent, dissenting voice in science. Rebelling against reductionist philosophies, he took an inclusive, systems view of the planet, publishing his Gaia Hypothesis in 1970. It took over 30 years for the international scientific community to come round...
Published on 11 April 2008 by Bruce Gregory

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73 of 92 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the magnum opus I was hoping for
I was disappointed by Lovelock's latest book for a number of reasons. Although I agree with his diagnosis of the magnitude of the global warming problem, I was horrified by some of his suggested solutions.
The impetus for buying the book ASAP was the pre-publication release of Lovelock's statement that it was already too late to avoid the most severe...
Published on 14 Feb 2006 by Dr. Donald A. Johnson


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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading, 11 April 2008
By 
Bruce Gregory "provocateur" (Dulwich London) - See all my reviews
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We should salute the (now) 89 -year-old author, James Ephraim Lovelock (Ephraim is Hebrew for fruitful): an independent, dissenting voice in science. Rebelling against reductionist philosophies, he took an inclusive, systems view of the planet, publishing his Gaia Hypothesis in 1970. It took over 30 years for the international scientific community to come round.

Having studied chemistry at Manchester U and received his PhD in medicine at London U, Lovelock was engaged in the 1960s by NASA to find ways to detect life on Mars. He realized that life would influence the atmosphere and designed an instrument to detect trace gases. Thinking about the reason why Mars is so barren and Earth so fruitful, he arrived at his Hypothesis.

In brief the Hypothesis stated that the Earth is not just a rock that happens to have things living on it: it is a complex interacting system of soil, sea, atmosphere and living things that shows a tendency to keep itself stable in a way that supports life. In particular this complex web has acted to hold temperature within a narrow range over hundreds of millions of years even as the sun warms and the planet wobbles in its orbit.

Lovelock calls this system Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth and persists in referring to Gaia as a person who acts with intent. Some find this annoying and unscientific. This reader accepts it as poetry and metaphor.

In summary, in his latest book, Lovelock revisits his Hypothesis and argues that:

1. Not only is climate change an impending disaster but an irreversible tipping point may already have been reached
2. The single most important step to take now is a major switch to nuclear power
3. Too many people simply do not understand the issues correctly: the well-meaning Greens are also at fault
4. Gaia's revenge will be to restore the equilibrium of the planet by removing most of the human population

On page 1 he states bluntly: `we are now so abusing the Earth that it may..move back to the hot state it was in 55 m years ago and most of us and our descendants will die.'

He starts with a by-now familiar history of the issue of climate change and goes on to say: ` we are now approaching one of those tipping points and (are) like passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail.'

He reminds us how huge are the effects of what seem like minor temperature shifts: only 3 degrees separates us from the last ice age; the same scale of increase now seems likely this century: very rapid change indeed in geological time.

The tipping point factors of climate change are by now well-known:

1. The poles melt and less sun is reflected: this seems to be happening now
2. The bogs thaw and methane is released (a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2)
3. The seas warm and the algae stop fixing carbon and making clouds
4. The forests bake and catch fire
5. Methane clathrates are released from the deep sea bed

What makes Lovelock distinctive is his Gaian perspective. He argues that:

1. A `cold' planet' is healthier than a `hot' one. If the Earth was 5 C cooler than now (as it has often been) , there would be glaciers down to the English Channel. But the Atlantic would be teeming and Africa would be a green garden.
2. We are mistaken to think that the Earth is in a Goldilocks orbit. It started out too cold for life. The sun is slowly warming and now the Earth is becoming too hot. So Gaia keeps tilting to coldness. There have been 11 recent ice-ages in the British Isles. We are in the `fever' of a warm interglacial and would normally be heading to the `cure' of the ice-age.
3. But man has disrupted the balance, not just by burning fossil fuel but also by replacing forest with farm. Gaia will do what it must to restore the balance.
4. The underlying problem is that the sustainable human population is probably under 1 billion. Today it is 6 billion, forecast to be 11 billion by 2050.

His argument for nuclear power is simple: all the other solutions produce lots of CO2 or don't work well and/or take too long (new approaches such as carbon sequestration take 20-40 years to mature):

1. Nuclear power is tried, tested and economical and produces very little CO2
2. Wind power is unreliable and costly. It would take 56000 large wind-mills plus fossil fuel back-up just to replace current nuclear capacity (20% of our total needs)
3. Solar is poor for the UK: unreliable and 3x more expensive than conventional methods
4. Wave power apart from a Severn barrage is expensive .....

And so on.

He believes that popular misconceptions of cancer risk militate against nuclear. (It's arguably worse than that: the UK government has ducked the issue for over a decade. Only in the last few months, stampeded by the risk that (a) the lights will go off around 2012 and/or (b) we will depend on a hostile Russia for gas, has the UK government moved). Lovelock bemoans the fact that our political classes do not have any feel for nature or the planet. (They also know little of science or business and there is often a grim determination among temporary ministers to avoid difficult decisions.)

He feels that the Green movement has lost its way: for example by wanting `sustainable development' when much more radical action is needed and for promoting low-productivity organic farming when this means eating up yet more of the countryside. This is putting a lifestyle choice ahead of the planet. He detests the Green wish to cover the land with tens of thousands of windmills.

He offers several examples of similarly faulty decisions: including the massive error of banning DDT. Because the vocal western middle-classes did not want pesticide in its food, Africans died. Yet the use of DDT to kill human disease vectors posed little food risk: it was abuse of DDT by farmers.

Lovelock explores some blue-sky technical fixes to global warming: planetary sun-shades, for example, but without real enthusiasm. Perhaps because it would distract from his here and now message: go nuclear.

So are his arguments complete and wholly compelling? No. The central question of power sources deserves a large book in its own right. Do you have to accept Gaia to believe that climate change is likely to destroy us? No. Do you have to accept Lovelocks' wistful argument for a countryside free of windmills? No.

But although bits of the book can be faulted, the whole seems to me to succeed. It is a well-written, lively, provocative book on a critical subject and a key idea of our times written by one our most gifted and original thinkers.

****

It's nice to know that when climate Armageddon arrives: the poles and the permafrost melt, the bogs and tropics catch fire and much of Southern Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA and Australia starve and fry, the Atlantic Conveyor will also switch off resulting in a local temperature drop. The result could well be that the UK climate remains equable. On the other hand the UK will be a shrunken archipelago, with our major cities submerged, tens of millions of people looking for a home and many millions of refugees landing on our beaches.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Biggest Issue we are facing, 2 Mar 2006
I was drawn to this book after hearing James Lovelock talking on Start the Week about the climate change we are facing and his proposed solutions.
This is a very good book and well worth reading. Lovelock exposes the full scale of the climate change situation we are facing and tries to bring the many disparate voices of the green movement into one clear direction that at least has a chance of preventing irreversible climate change.
Lovelock doesn't tries to bring in all the different ways in which we damage the planet and unlike many in the green movement doesn't take it as read that traditionally "green" ways of living are necessarility good for the planet. Specifically the misleading scientific results that present traditional "non-green" activities is a poor light.
One of the most interesting points for me was that the human obsession with reducing certain risks (from radiation, chemicals in food etc) to the bare minimum could well be the things that avoid us from saving the climate in which we live.
As Lovelock pointed out on the radio, if not in this book, the opportunities to avert irreversible climate change are rapidly running out and the risks from a nuclear power station are as nothing to the risks from permanent climate change.
Other reviwers have suggested that Lovelock might be looking at this from a UK perspective. I disagree. He's clearly looking from a world view and references he makes to the Devon countryside where he lives are not central to his argument. The people to suffer most from global warming will be some of the poorest in the world. His suggestion about nuclear power is only fair. We use the energy so we should bear the negative consequences of it's generation. He makes an eloquant case for why nuclear power is not the demon it made out to be. Incidently the BBC recently interviewed many locals around a Nuclear Power station and the locals were very supportive of it.
His case against renewables is equally compelling. Most of them just will not produce anything like the power that is required for modern living - even less so after the energy costs of building them is taken into account. Even bio fuels, he argues, would take around 5 times as much land area as the land currently used for crops. Ands he argues that the land used for crops is even too much - hence the need to be more efficient in our farming methods.
His case against organic farming is well argued in the light of the number of people that the planet can support. It's difficult to hear that organic farming methods might not be sustainable in the long term as they feel right. But if everyone lives off organic food and slowly killing the planet is it still a good thing?
Lovelock's critique of windmills is not based on them being German (as one reviwer suggested) but on the Danish experience of windmill technology, on the lack of reliability of wind now and on the quite possible scenario that our weather patterns change significantly with global warming thus making the windmills even less use than they are now.
For me the definition of a good book is to fundmentally change the way we look at the world and to open our eyes to a different approach which might hold more merit.
It opened my eyes to the way that climate change will effect every aspect of our way of life; the economy, the landscape, quality of life and even our democratic systems of government. I'm left wondering why the subjects raised in this book are not the main issue being discussed in the media.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and enlightening if a little sparse, 2 Feb 2006
By A Customer
I bought this book last night and had it finished within a few short hours. This is at the same time a compliment and a complaint. A compliment because it was a very good read and certainly made me want to keep reading. A complaint in that it is a very short book which is light in many areas. The overall Gaia theory is beautiful in its simplicity.
This book lays out how we have pushed the Earth so far and that it may well be too late to save our civilisation, not just in the West but world wide. It summarises the present understanding of Global Warming, previous climate change and where the world is heading now. The Author also delves into the potential solutions and gives some bad news to the proponents of renewable energy. It looks like they just won't be up to the job.
Anyway I highly recomend this book but be aware that it is light in detail.
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Climate Change - we have little time left to act, 2 May 2006
Gaia, that self-regulating system consisting of the atmosphere, living things and the ecosystems that contain them, the oceans and the underlying rocks, is in danger. Such is the warning given us by James Lovelock.

The regulation works through what are called 'feedback' mechanisms, and in the glossary at the end of the book Lovelock gives an explanatory example of such mechanisms:

If the car we are driving deviates from the intended path, we adjust the wheels to try to cancel the deviation. The power steering amplifies our action (negative feedback). But if the steering mechanism was faulty and it increased the car's deviation from the chosen path, the initial error would be amplified (positive feedback).

The earth remains a suitable place for man and other living organisms through negative feedback. Unfortunately, the balance of Gaia is now being disturbed by positive feedback mechanisms: One example given by Lovelock concerns the melting of snow on land. This snow reflects almost all the sunlight that reaches it and thus helps to keep the world cool. But as the snow melts at the edges, the dark ground that is then at the surface absorbs much of the sunlight and gets warmer. The increase in ground warmth accelerates further snow melting.

Lovelock says that nearly all the processes that affect the climate of the earth are now in positive feedback, and he gives six examples of these processes. Together, these processes are likely to push Gaia quite suddenly from its present equilibrium to an equilibrium at a much hotter state, and this change beyond what Lovelock calls a 'tipping point' may occur soon.

If this happens - perhaps by the end of the present century - the climate of the world could then "be described as Hell: so hot, so deadly that only a handful of the teeming billions now alive will survive" (page 147).

Strong stuff. But this is not the language of some columnist in a popular newspaper. It is written by a scientist who for many years has explored the properties of Gaia. A member of the Royal Society, Lovelock has, according to his own web site, produced about 200 scientific papers spread almost equally among topics in medicine, biology, instrument science and geophysiology.

Lovelock is the author of the Gaia Theory which states (glossary page 162):

"A view of the earth that sees it as a self-regulating system made up from the totality of organisms, the surface rocks, the ocean and the atmosphere tightly coupled as an evolving system. The theory sees this system as having a goal - the regulation of surface conditions so as always to be as favourable as possible for contemporary life. It is based on observations and theoretical models; it is fruitful and has made ten successful predictions".

In this book Lovelock gives the evidence for the theory, explains what is known of the regulatory mechanism, and looks at forecasts of how Gaia will behave in the present century; I have already written what Lovelock thinks may in fact happen.

How have we come to get into such a mess? Well Lovelock sees human population growth as the underlying cause of Gaia's problems:

"the root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population".

Lovelock discusses what we need to do now to avoid complete catastrophe. I will leave readers to find out for themselves what he proposes, apart from mentioning one thing he says, which I think may be paramount: "We need the people of the world to sense the real and present danger so that they will spontaneously mobilize and unstintingly bring about an orderly and sustainable withdrawal to a world where we try to live in harmony with Gaia".

This is a provocative book. Lovelock takes a swipe at 'affluent radicals', 'environmentalism' and 'Greens'. And unlike many, perhaps most environmentalists, he staunchly advocates nuclear power as the biggest ingredient in a future energy strategy portfolio designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as much as possible. I was myself one of those environmentalists who was against the use of nuclear power. But I have been convinced by Lovelock's arguments. He certainly makes it clear that biofuels could only make at most a modest contribution in the future, for to make even a fairly large contribution would require using all the land surface of the earth not already built up or used for agriculture.

I urge people to read this book.

Dr. J.F. Barker, Gaia Watch registered Charity
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Humankind comes second", 22 Aug 2006
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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It's common knowledge that our planet's in trouble. The number of books and articles testifying to this condition are almost beyond counting. Lovelock himself acknowledges that there will be dismay at the appearance of "another book on global warming". Lovelock's approach, however, is a departure from the other offerings on this topic. Having postulated the Earth as an organic whole, he can address the problem as a physician. There will be diagnosis and analysis of symptoms. There will also be some suggested therapy. Like many medicines, his prescriptions will be unpalatable to many.

Lovelock diagnoses the Earth as suffering from a fever. Its atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are rising. The infecting agent is a complex organism that has emerged only recently in Earth's history, although it spread rapidly. It's Homo sapiens - ourselves. Humans have usurped woods and prairies, cutting down forests and turning rangeland into farms for our sustainance. Although we declare these transformations are necessary to our survival, the changes have fatally disrupted the Earth's fine balance among land, sea and air. To Lovelock, that balance is a natural system. He's named the system "Gaia" from ancient Greek mythology. Although the "Gaia" concept has its critics, from doubtful to severe, Lovelock has convinced most scientists that the interaction of many elements must be viewed as tightly integrated. What affects one part will surely influence another - or many. And the effect is incalcuable. In this case the effect appears to be terminal. Which means if "Gaia" dies, the living things on this world will go with it. That means us. Gaia's revenge will be to exterminate her affliction.

Lovelock's aim is to protect Gaia. To achieve this, he prescribes some drastic and serious doses while dismissing other, competing, cures as inadequate or lacking effectiveness. Some, indeed, will worsen the condition. What is most difficult to impart to the antigen causing the infection is the rapidity with which the terminal crisis may arise. Temperature rise may seem to be progressing at a leisurely pace. "Collapse" doesn't appear imminent today according to some forecasters. They are wrong. Past history suggests catastrophic change has occurred before and is likely to happen again. The result was the mass extinction of much life - the upcoming one will be as bad or worse. The rate discharge of our carbon by-products is increasing and the result is sure to be more severe, Lovelock says. Because the chief element in humanity's infecting their home is carbon compounds, particularly carbon dioxide, Lovelock insists on applying the therapy of nuclear energy to replace the various carbon dioxide-generating facilities now in place. Even more drastic is his suggestion that farm land be abandoned to return to its primordial state. The food human farms produce can be produced by high-tech chemical firms with minimal transition.

It's somewhat cheering that Lovelock hasn't given up on our future. He makes frequent references to his wife, Sandy, and their lifestyle. He recounts his shift from Wiltshire to Devon, dodging developers along the way. His "little patch of England" sounds idyllic. They're above the level the sea will reach when the Greenland Ice Cap dissolves into the North Atlantic. Storm waves will not lash his land, although wind and rainfall may be discomfiting. Yet, he recognises his special luck in living where he does. He wants the rest of the world to do at least as well. To that end, he endorses nuclear power vigorously, particularly since it will lead to the environmental panacea of Tokamak fusion. How the developing nations will pay for their share of this energy miracle is left unaddressed. He also embraces the idea of aerosols to be sprayed into the upper atmosphere to act as a reflective surface to sunlight. What that will do to forests and other plants is unclear. It's a paper proposal that can only be proven on a planetary scale. Finally, in the scariest of his scenarios, he admits that since most of the therapeutic methods of inhibiting the infection Gaia suffers from will come from the developed nations, there will have to be an enforcement body to make it all happen. Given the types of leaders these nations have recently elevated to "leadership" that's a daunting prospect.

Lovelock's analysis of the severity of the problem is dramatic, but hardly overblown. Our planet is under serious threat, and it's due to us. We must implement serious cures and quickly to forestall the inevitable. Once the carbon content of what we breathe reaches the critical level, there will be only some tough microbes able to sustain themselves. They will hardly be reading either this review or Lovelock's book. Nor will you or your children. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Ontario]
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on global warming, 16 April 2006
If you only read one book about global warming, read this one. It is the third book I have read on climate change and despite it being so short I learnt a lot more from it than from either of the other two.

Lovelock doesn't try and convince the reader that global warming is happening but takes it for granted, so if you are a sceptic this is not the book for you; and he doesn't go into any great detail about specific issues. What he does do is examine the problem of climate change from as many different angles as possible. He has clearly thought about it more deeply than most climate change pundits.

You may end up disagreeing with a lot of what Lovelock says. But there are so many facts and ideas in this book that I think everyone interested in climate change will find something good they can take away from it.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting views and reviews, 6 April 2006
By A Customer
I have found the views espoused in this book to be both controversial and enlightening. Reading through the comments of previous readers I feel that they have somewhat missed a lot of points that James Lovelock was trying to make.
First off, hurrah for a book readble by the layman rather than a solely scientific community.
Also Mr Lovelock himself agreed that convincing many leaders / populations of the world that reigning in greenhouse emmissions is not going to be well received, but do we have a choice? Do they? Does a malthusianistic Gaia?
I didn't read a text that was anti-green / anti-organic. Instead I read a text that emphasised a planet hosting 6.5 billion (and growing) of the vermin called human beings "cannot" be sustained by wind turbines and organic (or indeed even intensive farming) methods, no matter how good the intentions.
A text that stated an opinion that we may not "want", but we "need" a portfolio of energy production methods with a lot of emphasis on nuclear fission, giving way to cleaner and more efficient fusion as it becomes available. Whilst the environment wasn't an issue we accepted miners dying in collapsing mines, living hard lives and dying in their 50s & 60s of lung related illnesses in order to find fuel. Maybe we need to stop being so soft and accept the risks of nuclear power generation instead of jumping at our own shadows whilst expecting a long, illness free life. That was never Gaia's way! Life itself is a risky business.
I also agree that we need to live in a world where responsibility begins with every individual. Just how to convince the individual? Putting this book on the curriculum!?
The text also stated that we need to retreat from a civilisation that plunders its resources. Yes we do need to retreat from a mindset that expects overseas holidays and the use of fossil burning fuels for transport, that is uncomfortable without the TV and the lights on all over the house. I too am guilty?
Mr Lovelock also has doubts about any country that needs to resource beyond its borders in a world where civilisation breaks down, yet in the UK we are beginning to depend on French electricity and Russian gas rendering future national secuirity impossible.
Overall, what he seems to be saying is that there are too many of us, using too many resources, leaving too much pollution and that many of the "green" solutions only go part of the way toward a solution, whilst many are less than the equivalent of sticking our fingers in the dyke. We need to individually and collectively take action now, because Gaia has and we may be very uncomfortable with the outcome.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can science save Gaia?, 14 Nov 2006
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What makes James Lovelock's book so compelling is a combination of three ingredients - first, his defense of the Earth's biosphere as a self-regulating system; second, his persuasive analysis that indicates how close we are to the tipping point beyond which Gaia loses her self-regulating, regenerative qualities; and thirdly, his total commitment to science along with a refusal to indulge in any spiritualist hocus pocus which taints the work of so many other environmentalists. In his mid-80s, Lovelock remains truly a giant in the green movement - his arguments demand to be heard equally by those blissfully ignorant on the dangerous path that the Earth has entered under the influence of capitalist development (are there still any?) and by those who look for easy scapegoats, whether they are called 'big business', 'big science' or 'big government'.

But Lovelock's book may indeed underplay the negative influence of science which has fuelled all those (often irrational) public concerns and anxieties. In addition to science, we need a political will, international cooperation and the shock value of books like this to help initiate the kind of resonse that might help prevent Gaia's revenge.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A WAKE UP CALL, 14 Jun 2006
By 
Conor Corderoy (Chichester and Cordoba) - See all my reviews
James Lovelock is reminiscent of Russell both in the simple clarity of his prose, and in the clarity of his thinking. It is enormously refreshing, after being exposed daily to political spin and dishonesty on this most important of all topics, to have it laid out with such unflinching clarity. This is a book that everybody should read. It does not claim to know the unknowable, but what it does tell us is of incalculable importance and consequence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An alternative but very personal and inconsistent view of environmentalism, 6 Feb 2010
By 
Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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This is the latest in James Lovelock's books about Gaia. In this book he suggests that we might have taken Gaia beyond the point of no return and that human created climate change will lead to a shift in the steady-state of Gaia.

I am not an anti-Gaia skeptic although I think you do not need to personify the planet to make it a "living" system. I agree that the Earth's System is probably going to move to another steady state and that humanity is contributing to this move. Where I would disagree is that we know what this state will be and that we can work out our contribution to this shift. Lovelock himself admits that the system is too complex for humanity to understand and that we would be hopeless if we tried to take over the management of Gaia but that argument works both ways. We also cannot tell how Gaia will react to the current crisis. Where I would agree is that the new state is unlikely to be very human friendly, but Gaia will survive even if we do not.

He is pro-nuclear power and anti-sustainable and wind in particular. His arguments for tidal forget the contribution they make to environmental change. I agree that nuclear is our only current hope until we learn to reduce our consumption and we have to make do with less land and to generate the largest amount of food we can from this. So organic might not be the way forward. He is inconsistent over protecting the eco-systems while saying we cannot go organic and need to keep factory farming. He is silent on GM but this is something we might use.

There are lessons we can learn from the book but we can be more positive. It is not hubris to think that we can help Gaia and try to come to an agreement for our mutual benefit. We will never be able to take over control but humans can make positive steps, such as the lessons we can learn from the New Guinean highlanders or the experiences of the Vikings in Greenland from the book Collapse.

Lovelock pointed out that we needed to take a big picture view of the Earth and so we have to embrace all that we can do. There is much to learn and much to do and very little time.
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