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James Lovelock is a creative scientist and inventor, a visionary thinker, and a fascinating individual. Not the least remarkable thing about him is that at the age of 89 he still writes clearly and beautifully. The Vanishing Face of Gaia is his second book on global warming and covers much the same ground as The Revenge of Gaia, published in 2006. However, both books, indeed all his books, contain interesting and often charming excursions into a number of topics scientific, personal, and speculative.

Lovelock believes that it is not possible to understand the looming global warming crisis and to know what to do about it without taking Gaia into account. The name Gaia, which was suggested to him 40 years ago by his country neighbour, the novelist William Golding, is the ancient Greeks' goddess of Earth and is the etymological root of words such as geology. By Gaia, Lovelock means that the biosphere - the totality of life on Earth - regulates itself and the air, water and rocks upon which it depends so as to maintain favourable conditions for itself. Lovelock promotes Gaia as both a public religion (we humans need to realise that we are merely parts of a larger organism) and as a scientific theory (the biosphere should be studied as a self-regulating system analogous to an organism).

The current scientific consensus on global warming, as represented by the assessment reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is far off the mark, according to Lovelock. Consensus has no legitimate role in science. It's rather a way of resolving political differences than pursuing truth. Moreover, this specific consensus is based on agreeing that computer models can predict what global temperatures will be in 50 or 100 years, which Lovelock argues is preposterous. Instead of models, science must be based on observations and measurements.

What do observations and measurements tell us about the global climate? Lovelock says that the evidence is unambiguous: the rate of warming is much faster than predicted by the computer model forecasts of steady, gradual warming. The almost certain result is that the self-regulating feedbacks that maintain the climate in its current rather cool state will collapse and the climate will change suddenly to a much hotter state.

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Lorna Salzman
February 3rd, 2013
4:02 PM
Those under-schooled and under-informed about science, nature and the environment are hasty in embracing scientists like James Lovelock and Freeman Dyson (both physicists, by the way, not biologists, which explains a lot about their rose-colored glasses vision of the earth). The English love eccentrics of course and are quick to smell them out and take advantage of their speculations. I use this word intentionally because the speculations or hypotheses of individual scientists are no more reliable than those of conspiracy theorists. Not coincidentally, Lovelock's fault understanding of evolution shows itself unashamedly with regard to his cockeyed Gaian theory. Many of the earth's systems do self-regulate but the reason is because evolution and natural selection put a premium on behavioral adaptation by individuals in all species. The main difference is that evolution ONLY acts on organisms in the context of EXISTING conditions; it cannot predict the future and what new conditions might arise. Therefore, the notion that the earth regulates itself is meaningless. Nor does natural selection apply to the earth as a whole but only to individuals within populations and species, whose ability to adapt to PRESENT conditions gives them a reproductive edge and allows them to perpetuate themselves; of course their progeny may be forced to adapt to completely different conditions. Lovelock is a good source of what is little more than "pop science". He is a good self-promoter. But he is a poor biologist and ecologist, and has nothing more substantial to offer us than our local gossip columnist.

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