smithsonianmag.com 8-2022 The British scientist and inventor who said Earth is a self-regulating system died earlier this summer on his 103rd birthday – by Will Sullivan
economist.com 8-2022 Farewell to James Lovelock – The inventor of the Gaia hypothesis dies, aged 103
In 2020 james lovelock told the Observer, a British Sunday paper, that “the biosphere and I are both in the last 1% of our lives”. He was wrong about himself, by a factor of about two: he died on July 26th, his 103rd birthday.
Dr Lovelock was one of the most influential scientific minds of the 20th and 21st centuries. He was best known for the Gaia hypothesis, which captured the imaginations of the scientifically minded and mystically inclined alike with its proposal that life on Earth behaves like a mega-organism. He argued that all living things combine, through their interactions with each other and the physical systems around them, to regulate the planet’s temperature and chemistry in such a way that keeps conditions relatively stable and suitable for their persistence. “Life at an early stage of its evolution acquired the capacity to control the global environment to suit its needs,” he wrote in a short note published in 1972, in which he described “the sum total of species” as “a large creature” possessing “properties greater than the simple sum of its parts”.
The idea of life creating its own self-regulating planet seduced the public and divided scientists. Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and the author of “The Selfish Gene”, took umbrage at the theory’s apparent reliance on group selection, whereby things that benefit a group of organisms happen simply for that reason—because the group profits from them. John Maynard Smith, another great evolutionary biologist of the 20th century, dubbed the idea “an evil religion”. John Postgate, a microbiologist, wrote in a 1988 comment piece for New Scientist: “Gaia—the Great Earth Mother! The planetary organism! Am I the only biologist to suffer a nasty twitch, a feeling of unreality, when the media invite me yet again to take it seriously?”
Nevertheless, the hypothesis endured and inspired. Richard Betts, head of the climate science division of the British Met Office, said after Dr Lovelock’s death that his “first book on Gaia was a major reason why I chose to work on climate change and Earth system modelling”. The 21st century brought an increasing focus on climate science, rife with illustrations of feedback loops and interconnected biological and physical systems. Researchers now know that bacteria on land and in the oceans alter the chemistry of the atmosphere and the soil, regulating global temperatures. Algae produce airborne, cloud-seeding chemicals. Forests generate atmospheric rivers, and their own rain.
But new findings and models also called attention to the fact that feedback loops can be destructive to life, and that Earth’s physical and biological condition is by no means perpetually stable (Dr Lovelock himself became outspoken about the vast disturbances in the climate and ecosystems). To his chagrin, his brainchild was never adopted as mainstream by his peers, though it inspired many. The grand notion of Earth as a living mega-organism, female or otherwise, remains an influential metaphor, rather than a science.
The Gaia hypothesis was far from Dr Lovelock’s only contribution to environmental and biological thinking. His early experiments freezing and reanimating hamsters influenced the field of cryopreservation. In the 1950s, he created his Electron Capture Detector, capable of measuring trace amounts of chlorine-based molecules in the air. This eventually led to the discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (cfcs), the once-ubiquitous chemicals used in aerosol sprays and refrigerators, had spread across the planet. He confirmed this in the most remote location he could find—a research vessel bound for Antarctica—in 1971. His discovery became significant later, when cfcs were shown to deplete stratospheric ozone.
In 1965, while developing scientific instruments for future space missions for the then newly-formed nasa, Dr Lovelock had what he called “the most treasured moment of my life”. He proposed that the presence of gases in chemical disequilibrium with their surroundings could be interpreted as a signal of life. Oxygen, for example, is a reactive gas that would not build up in Earth’s atmosphere in normal conditions. As a by-product of photosynthesis, however, it is being replenished continuously. Looking for such “biosignatures” in the atmospheres of faraway planets has now become an important strategy in the science of astrobiology, the search for life beyond Earth.
In more recent years, Dr Lovelock agonised over climate change and its consequences for humans and ecosystems. In that same interview with the Observer, as he extended the metaphor of self-regulation put out-of-whack to the sars-Cov2 pandemic. He also became an ardent supporter of nuclear power, which he called “the only green solution”.
Speaking to New Scientist aged 81, Dr Lovelock said of his eventual passing: “It is comforting to think that I am a part of her [Gaia], and that my destiny is to merge with the chemistry of our living planet.” As the research community mourned his death this week, Dr Betts echoed this sentiment: “Rest in Gaia, Jim, you will be missed.”
theguardian.com 7-2022 James Lovelock, creator of Gaia hypothesis, dies on 103rd birthday – The scientist was best known for his theory that the Earth is a self-regulating community of organisms
4 days ago — A free thinker … Whatever you think of James Lovelock, he will be remembered for being a truly independent scientist, which, Professor Pitman …
apnews.com/ 7-2022 James Lovelock, creator of Gaia ecology theory, dies at 103 – By JILL LAWLESS
Jul 28, 2022 — A British ecologist, he captured imaginations with his hypothesis and was essential to today’s understanding of man-made pollutants and their …
Author of the GAIA theory · Welcome to Professor James LOVELOCK’s web site ! · This web site has been reviewed and approved by James Lovelock himself. · Discover …