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dedicate this book to my beloved wife Sandy




'If we had our way this would be on the reading syllabus' GQ

The most profound scientific thinker of our time ... the greatest living Englishman' Bryan Appleyard, Literary Review

'He has changed the way we look at the world' Colin Tudge, Guardian

This book could prove to be one of the twentieth-century's most important pieces of polemic' James Flint, Daily Telegraph

'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' John Whitfield, Independent on Sunday

'A sharp jolt to political complacency ... fresh and thought-provoking' Andrew Robinson, The Times Higher Education Supplement

'A scientific visionary ... packed with wisdom and integrity, beautifully written, challenging' David King, The Times

The prose has an elegance and clarity that put the standard eco-rant to shame' Tom Fort, Spectator

'His poetic yet precise, scientific yet spiritual, way of thinking takes us to the heart of what it is to be a human on this strange planet called Earth ... 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' Fred Pearce, BBC Focus


'One of the most famous scientists on the planet and one of the creators of our current environmental consciousness'

Ian Irvine, Independent

'This brief, urgent and sobering polemic' Ned Denny, Evening Standard

The man who conceived the first wholly new way of looking at life on Earth since Charles Darwin' Michael McCarthy,



James Lovelock is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis (now Gaia Theory). He has written three books on the subject: Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, The Ages of Gaia and Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine, as well as an autobiography, Homage to Gaia. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1974. Since 1961 he has worked as a wholly independent scientist but retained links with universities in the UK and USA, and since 1994 has been an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Green College, University of Oxford. He has been described as 'one of the great thinkers of our time' (New Scientist) and 'one of the environmental movement's most influential figures' (Observer). In 2003 he was made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty the Queen, and in September 2005 Prospect magazine named him as one of the world's top 100 global intellectuals.



The Revenge of Gaia

Why the Earth is Fighting Back - and
How We Can Still Save Humanity

Foreword by Sir Crispin Tickell




Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R orl, England www.penguin.com

First published by Allen Lane 2006

Published in Penguin Books 2007


Copyright © James Lovelock, 2006 All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Typeset by Rowland Phototypesetting Ltd, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

ISBN: 978-0-141-02597-1



List of Illustrations




Foreword by Sir Crispin Tickell



The State of the Earth



What is Gaia?



The Life History of Gaia



Forecasts for the Twenty-first Century



Sources of Energy



Chemicals, Food and Raw Materials



Technology for a Sustainable Retreat



A Personal View of Environmentalism



Beyond the Terminus




Further Reading





List of Illustrations

(Photographic acknowledgements are given in parentheses.)

1. Greenland's melting glaciers (Roger Braithwaite/Still Pictures).

2. Exit Glacier, Harding Icefields, Alaska (copyright © Ashley Cooper/Picimpact/Corbis).

3. Peat-bog fires in Dumai, Indonesia (AFP/Getty Images).

4. Deforestation in the Amazon, Brazil (Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images).

5. Pre-agribusiness English countryside (Royalty-free/ Corbis).

6. Intensive farming (copyright © Bill Stormont/ Corbis).

7. Energy use and urban spread, as seen from space (NASA/Newsmakers).

8. Algal life in the oceans (image provided by ORBIM-AGE and NASA WiFS Project).

9. The scarcity of the Earth's vegetation (NASA/Corbis).

10. The surface of Mars (HO/AFP/Getty Images).  {ix} 

11. Land devastation by mining (James Lovelock).

12. Par Pond, Savannah River nuclear facility, USA (David E. Scott/SREL).



I have been fortunate to have friends who read and who made helpful and valued comments on the book as it was written and I am truly grateful to: Richard Betts, David Clemmow, Peter Cox, John Dyson, John Gray, Stephan Harding, Peter and Jane Horton, Tim Lenton, Peter Liss, Chris Rapley, John Ritch, Elaine Steel, Sir Crispin Tickell, David Ward and Dave Wilkinson. I also thank GAIA, registered charity no. 327903, www.daisyworld.org, for support during the writing of this book and to whom all royalties will be donated.



Who is Gaia? What is she? The What is the thin spherical shell of land and water between the incandescent interior of the Earth and the upper atmosphere surrounding it. The Who is the interacting tissue of living organisms which over four billion years has come to inhabit it. The combination of the What and the Who, and the way in which each continuously affects the other, has been well named 'Gaia'. It is, as James Lovelock says, a metaphor for the living Earth. The Greek goddess from whom the term is derived should be proud of the use to which her name has been put.

The notion that the Earth is in this metaphorical sense alive has a long history. Gods and goddesses were seen to embody specific elements, ranging from the sky to the most local spring, and the notion that the Earth itself was alive came up regularly in Greek philosophy. Leonardo da Vinci saw the human body as the microcosm of the Earth, and the Earth as the macrocosm of the human body. He did not know as well as we now do that the human body is a macrocosm of the tiny elements of life - bacteria, parasites, viruses - often at war with each other, and together constituting more than our body cells. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake just over 400 years  {xiii}  ago for maintaining that the Earth was alive, and that other planets could be so too. The geologist James Hutton saw the Earth as a self-regulating system in 1785, and T. H. Huxley saw it likewise in 1877. For his part, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky saw the functioning of the biosphere as a geological force which creates a dynamic disequilibrium which in turn promotes the diversity of life.

But it was James Lovelock who brought this together into the Gaia Hypothesis in 1972. In this book he refines and enlarges upon it in new and practical ways. Looking back it is strange how uncongenial the idea was to the practitioners of the conventional wisdom when it was put forward in its present form over a quarter of a century ago. Unfamiliar ways of looking at the familiar tend to arouse emotional opposition far beyond rational argument: thus the opposition to the ideas of evolution by natural selection in the nineteenth century, of tectonic-plate movement in the twentieth century, and more recently of Gaia. At the beginning some New Age travellers jumped aboard, and some otherwise sensible scientists jumped off. They are now jumping on again. The change was well summed up in a declaration published after a meeting of scientists from the four great international global research programmes in 2001 which said

The Earth system behaves as a single, self-regulating system, comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components. The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability.

This indeed is Gaia.  {xiv} 

The prime message from this book is less that Gaia herself is under threat ('a tough bitch', as Lynn Margulis has called her), but rather that humans have been doing her present configuration increasingly serious damage. Gaia is anyway changing, and may be less robust than in the past. The sun's heat on the Earth is steadily increasing, and eventually the self-regulation on which all life depends will be put at risk. Looking at the global ecosystem as a whole, human population increase, degradation of land, depletion of resources, accumulation of wastes, pollution of all kinds, climate change, abuses of technology, and destruction to biodiversity in all its forms together constitute a unique threat to human welfare unknown to previous generations. As Lovelock has written elsewhere,

We have grown in number to the point where our presence is perceptibly disabling the planet like a disease. As in human diseases there are four possible outcomes: destruction of the invading disease organisms; chronic infection; destruction of the host; or symbiosis - a lasting relationship of mutual benefit to the host and the invader.

The question is how to achieve that symbiosis. We are far from it today. Lovelock eloquently examines each of the main issues, most arising from the effects of the industrial revolution, in particular use of fossil fuels, chemicals, agriculture and living space. He then goes on to suggest how we might - at long last - begin to cope. As has been well said, the first requirement is to recognize that the problems exist. The second is to understand and draw the right conclusions. The third is to do something about them. Today we are somewhere between stages one and two.  {xv} 

When applied to the problems of present society, the concept of Gaia can be extended to current thinking about values: the way we look at and judge the world around us, and above all how we behave. This has particular application in the field of economics, where fashionable delusions about the supremacy of market forces are so deeply entrenched, and the responsibility of government to protect the public interest is so often ignored. Rarely do we measure costs correctly: thus the mess of current energy and transport policy, and the failure to assess the likely impacts of climate change.

The main difference between the past and today is that our problems are truly global. As Lovelock points out, we are currently trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback. What happens in one place very soon affects what happens in others. We are dangerously ignorant of our own ignorance, and rarely try to see things as a whole. If we are eventually to achieve a human society in harmony with nature, we must be guided by more respect for it. No wonder that some have wanted to make a religion of Gaia, or of life as such. This book is a marvellous introduction to the science of how our species should make its peace with the rest of the world in which we live.