The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning Paperback – 28 Jan 2010
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About Jim Lovelock
(Photo Credit: Sandy Lovelock)
Jim Lovelock is an iconic figure in British science, a prophet whose prophecies are coming true. Lovelock is best known as the 'father' of Gaia theory, which is now established as the most useful way of understanding the dramatic changes happening to the environment of the Earth. Yet, throughout his life - as a student, independent scientist and writer - Lovelock has met with disagreement and disparagement. His drive came from personal belief, curiosity and conviction. He has been right for all his working life and, although it is frightening for us to believe the scenario he describes in The Vanishing Face of Gaia, he is right again.
The Vanishing Face of Gaia is James Lovelock's final word on the terrifying environmental problems we will confront in the twenty-first century. The earth as we know it is vanishing. It is moving inexorably to a new, hot state. The idea that we can "save the planet" by reducing carbon emissions is, Lovelock writes, nothing but a sales pitch. The earth, as it always has done, will save itself. It is up to us to save the human race.As he approaches his 90th birthday, James Lovelock looks forward to what he describes as "a hell of an upgrade", as Richard Branson is sending him into space with Virgin Galactic, so he can, for the first time, see the face of Gaia.
"James Lovelock is one of the greatest scientists of his own generation and has inspired further generations of scientists to see the world as a single system operating in feedback and behaving as a single living organism. His vision of the planet as Gaia and subsequent Gaia Theory are the bedrocks of modern environmental science and his work on the role of CFCs in the depletion of Ozone in the atmosphere was truly ground breaking. There could be no more fitting tribute to the father of Gaia Theory than to let him see Gaia's beauty from space, something he has dreamed of doing all of his life."
- Sir Richard Branson, 8 February 2009
"I feel I cannot possibly disagree with Lovelock, or with the overwhelming body of scientists who attest to the reality of climate change.If Lovelock is only half-right, then we must have an immediate programme to pastoralise the global economy and reduce emissions. The paradox is that he is completely right, there is not a lot we can do, and we might as well enjoy our beautiful planet while we can."
- Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson, 2 February 2006
"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... Lovelock deserves to stir up a Galileo-sized political storm."
- Daily Telegraph, Andrew Marr, 1 February 2006.
"He is the most important and original scientific thinker in the world today."
- John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.
"Its conclusion can be best summed up in the words of Dad's Army's Private Frazer: 'We're doomed'."
- The Tablet, Russell Sparks, 3 February 2007.
"Lovelock writes with the lovely naivety of the successful maverick"
- The Sunday Times (Culture), February 28 2007.
"The Revenge of Gaia is a riveting and troubling work by a true 'scientific visionary'."
- The Week, Saturday 4 February 2006.
"Lovelock has done his part by saying what nobody else dares."
- Newsweek, William Underhill, 24 April 2006.
"His appetite for life remains gargantuan."
- Saturday Guardian, Review, Andrew Brown, 31 December 2005.
"He is an unexpected ecological Jeremiah... The man who changed our thinking about the world and its living beings may also have profoundly altered the way it will fight the battle against environmental mayhem."
- The Observer, Energy, Robin McKie, 11 October 2006.
"With Earth in the future looking set to become a dramatically different place, these are radical ideas that we may just have to accept."
- BBC Focus, Jheni Osman, May 2006.
"Unlike science bores, Lovelock talks in the vivid lingo of the science-fictionalist."
- The Week, Saturday, Jasper Gerard, 11 February 2006.
"He is not just scaremongering. He is reflecting the views of a growing body of climatologists."
- The Times, Magnus Linklater, Wednesday 19 April 2006.
"Lovelock is a fascinating figure, and a scientist of long and impeccable degree."
- FT Magazine, Fiona Harvey, January 28/29 2006.
"Lovelock is the most profound scientific thinker of our time, and - though I admit in the present climate this is not saying much - the greatest living Englishman."
- Literary Review, Bryan Appleyard, Wednesday 1 March 2006.
"Lovelock"s vast learning, crisp and energetic writing, and original thinking mean that every disagreement is a prompt to become better informed and clearer thinking about climate change."
- The Independent on Sunday, John Whitfield, 12 February 2006.
"Gaia is becoming as accepted as relativity."
- New Scientist, F. David Peat, Saturday 18 March 2006.
"The most important book ever to be published on the environmental crisis."
- The Independent, John Gray, when? (cf. Yorkshire Post, Michael Meadowcroft, 26 April 2006.)
"This is a hugely serious book. You will rarely read anything more serious. More humane, more humbling, more passionate, more scientific, more spiritual, more important or, in its way, more lyrical - certainly not in 160 pages."
- BBC Focus, Fred Pearce, Wednesday, 1 March 2006.
"Lovelock's fame and notoriety as well as the book's contents ensure it"s already a classic work of science."
- Royal Meteorological Society. Edward Hanna, April 2006.
“Lovelock is a plain and simple writer, and his prose has a natural grace that makes this book a pleasure to read despite its depressing thesis.”
“[The Vanishing Face of Gaia] seems to arise from frustration that society hasn’t been roused by the wake-up call of [The Revenge of Gaia]…. [It] has an elevated sense of urgency – stimulated in part by observations that anthropogenic influence and Earth’s response are accelerating at a pace that exceeds the projections of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.”
Leonardo Reviews (International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology)
“Almost everyone today has glimpsed the abyss of extinction, but few have gazed into it as unflinchingly as Lovelock.… [He] gathers the knowledge of a lifetime to transcend the bounds of scientific discourse and sound a warning about matters of the greatest urgency.”
The New York Review of Books
“[An] idiosyncratic book…. James Lovelock has told it as he sees it…and at ninety he has nothing to lose, while readers, however skeptical, have much to gain.”
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Top customer reviews
Gaia essentially casts the Earth as a self-regulating, living organism that is still evolving. Its goal is optimal conditions for its own survival and the survival of life - though not necessarily human life.
Over this past week I have learned a remarkable amount about the current state of the planet, the disagreement among and between scientists and politicians about this; and the vast array of plans and suggestions on how to deal with it.
Like many people these days I have had some interest in climate change and global warming, but can't say I've followed it in great detail. I dutifully wash and squash every plastic container and milk carton and collect every scrap of used paper in my house to fill my green bin. I use a compost bin and minimise anything going to landfill. I own a car, but use public transport to travel to work. I've tut tutted at people jetting off to Spain and New York with no good reason and no thought of carbon footprint. I repeat a mantra to my children about switching off TV's and computers and lights. I even signed up for the electricity company's smart meter trial last week. In short I'm a bit of a swot, but it is only since reading about Gaia that I have sat up and really paid attention to what is actually going on around us.
James Lovelock is convinced that it is too late. The damage we've done to the planet since industrialisation has passed its tipping point and from now on things are going to accelerate ever more quickly. There is no going back. Gaia, will take care of itself, adapting to the effects of ever-increasing CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases by getting hotter. It will continue without us, well without most of us anyway. He estimates that only a small proportion of the 7 billion currently occupying the planet will survive the 21st century.
Not everyone agrees. There was an article in the Irish Times last week after he made an appearance at University College Dublin. The headline referred to him as the Genial Prophet of Climate Doom. And he is a doomsayer. His claims place him in direct opposition to the general scientific and political consensus as established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
He dismisses their predictions on global warming and rising sea levels agreed at their most recent convention in 2007. Specifically he dismisses their estimated time frame. His view is that rising temperatures and sea-levels are proceeding much more quickly than they anticipated. He criticises them for being so pre-occupied trying to reach consensus that they missed the opportunity to recognise the extent of the problem and to take action.
The IPCC are not the only ones to come under fire. He is scathing about the Green movement in general claiming they are phaffing about the place with wind farms and solar energy, while the only real long-term solution to our energy requirements that will keep carbon emissions at a reasonable level is nuclear.
He laughs dismissively at the whole notion of carbon offsets likening them to the indulgences once sold by the Catholic Church as a sort of "Get out of Purgatory" card.
His message, his final warning, is an appeal to humanity to shift the focus from reducing carbon emissions to preparing for the inevitable. This includes the preparation on this island (Ireland) and our neighbouring island (Britain), his home, for a huge population influx over the coming decades. Temperate islands like ours and New Zealand along with Scandinavia are among the areas most likely to remain habitable in his scenario. We should be concentrating on becoming self-sufficient in food and energy. We should be drawing up policies on how to process climate refugees, because they will surely come and there will be many of them from continental Europe and beyond.
Early on he uses an analogy with the economy. Climate change, like the economy he says, is not a neat linear process; there will always be stops and starts, highs and lows.
I'd take the economy/climate analogy even further to ask what on earth were our leaders and bankers thinking during the latter years of the property boom. They must have known the walls would come tumbling down. Why didn't they take evasive action? Are the global "climate bankers" avoiding looking at the inevitable future?
At 90 James Lovelock is unlikely to witness the catastrophe he's predicted, nor perhaps will you or I, but our children and grand-children will if we are to believe even half of what he's saying.
I don't know enough yet to say I agree with some or all or any of what he says, but he has certainly given me a wake-up call and lots of food for thought. I can only hope that our "climate bankers" hear his warning too.
If you read nothing else in 2009, read this book!
Lovelock points out that observational data show the world is heating up faster than the most pessimistic scenario from the IPCC models. He makes it crystal clear why the IPCC, even though it includes many excellent individual scientists among its membership, is incapable of presenting a model which actually bears any relationship with what is really happening. Consensus reached through a fundamentally political process is not a mechanism that will ever achieve scientific truth.
The message is not wholly pessimistic, though. There are actions that we can take - and urgently should take - to slow this headlong rush to catastrophe even if we cannot halt or reverse it. Wholesale transition from fossil fuels to other sources of energy is necessary but not sufficient. He argues well the folly of wind power as even a partial solution, while enthusiastically supporting nuclear power. His clear presentation of the facts combined with his independence from the 'nuclear lobby' and from any green pressure group lend authority to his statements.
Lovelock also examines the prospects for various geo-engineering options though accepts that none are likely to be able to reverse global heating, and that none are risk-free. He identifies the burial of elemental carbon ('bio-char') as by far the most promising - but like all else, it will not happen unless there is a serious commitment and concerted effort. Similarly, the industrial synthesis of food and fuel from inorganic ingredients (mainly CO2 and water), using nuclear power as an energy source, would have added benefits of reducing our demand for agricultural land and taking CO2 out of the system.
This is a book not only to be read but to be acted upon. Although private individuals can and should do whatever they can, many actions can be taken only at governmental level. Business, driven by short-term profit motives, cannot be expected to do anything without appropriate carrot-and-stick measures. It is vital, therefore, that our decision-makers read, understand, and accept the obligation that is theirs to ensure a long term future for humankind as an important component of our living planet. Procrastination or lip-service are nothing but death sentences for humanity.
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