James Lovelock at 100: the Gaia saga continues

Dec 2016
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I had planned to post something about the independent scientist - James Lovelock reaching his 100th birthday yesterday, but unfortunately forgot all about it.
Lovelock was my kind of scientist...and one who has admitted in many past interviews could not have been allowed to follow his various interests through many different fields of research today, where academia demands specialization and an endless supply of research papers on a chosen field of study.

In his review of Lovelock's latest book: Novacene, Tim Radford writes in his book review in Nature:
Lovelock’s nomination to the Royal Society in 1974 listed his work on “respiratory infections, air sterilisation, blood-clotting, the freezing of living cells, artificial insemination, gas chromatography and so on”. The “and so on” briefly referred to climate science, and to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The story of Gaia began with a question posed by NASA scientists while Lovelock was a consultant at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. That is, how could you tell if a planet such as Mars harboured life?​
With microbiologist Lynn Margulis, Lovelock published a series of papers on the subject. In 1974, they developed a view of Earth’s atmosphere as “a component part of the biosphere rather than as a mere environment for life” (J. E. Lovelock and L. Margulis Tellus 26, 2–10; 1974). Earth’s atmosphere contains oxygen and methane — reactive gases, constantly renewed. That disequilibrium radiates an infrared signal, which Lovelock later described as an “unceasing song of life” that is “audible to anyone with a receiver, even from outside the Solar System”. Thus, the answer to NASA’s question was already written in the static Martian atmosphere, composed almost entirely of non-reactive carbon dioxide.​
That was the beginning of a sustained and developing argument, in the face of sometimes dismissive criticism, that recast Earth as, in effect, a superorganism. Lovelock’s Gaia theory states that, for much of the past 3.8 billion years, a holistic feedback system has played out in the biosphere, with life forms regulating temperature and proportions of gases in the atmosphere to life’s advantage. Earth system science is now firmly established as a valuable intellectual framework for understanding the only planet known to harbour life, and increasingly vulnerable to the unthinking actions of one species. Colleagues and co-authors acknowledge that the argument continues, but endorse the importance of Lovelock and Margulis.​
Entwined evolution
“The insight that the oceans and the atmosphere are thoroughly entwined with the living biosphere, and must be understood as a coupled system, has been completely vindicated,” says marine and atmospheric scientist Andrew Watson of the University of Exeter, UK. Lee Kump goes further. “Lovelock also showed us that Darwin had it only half right,” says Kump, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. “Life evolves in response to environmental change, but the environment also evolves in response to biological change.” Despite severing formal links with universities decades ago, Lovelock has been showered with honorary degrees and awards from bodies as varied as NASA and the Geological Society of London.​
The procession of engaging books began in 1979 with Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Each volume made its case more forcefully than the last, exploring what was known first as the Gaia hypothesis, then simply as Gaia, and the hazards facing either the biosphere or humanity. The books include his endearing autobiography Homage to Gaia (2000), increasingly urgent warnings of climate devastation in The Revenge of Gaia (2006) and The Vanishing Face of Gaia (2009), and the less apocalyptic A Rough Ride to the Future (2014)........................................ https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01969-y
I have three of those books on Gaia...a theory with great explanatory power, though Lovelock seemed to shift around and change his thinking over the years on how Gaia worked as a collective. His first book on the subject seemed to imply that the carbon cycle and other systems like near constant oxygen levels in the atmosphere were trying to maintain a balance, we humans couldn't upset that balance. But, likely as more and more disturbing data on carbon and GHG increases in the atmosphere became apparent, James Lovelock became more and more pessimistic about how well nature could contain the harmful effects of human activity. Then he started talking more optimistically in his later years, including in his new book apparently.

Whether he's got it right or is on the right track, as Radford has noted, James Lovelock and Lyn Margulis have already done their job by making important contributions in the understanding of how earth systems function, and at 100, it's up to those following in his footsteps to carry on with this work.

So, with that I wish James Lovelock a belated 100th birthday and hope he is still doing well! He didn't seem to have any public appearances scheduled or statements to make yesterday or since his latest book was published a month ago. Hope he's able to enjoy turning over the odometer hitting the three digit mark! :birthdaycake: :cocktail::wine::alcohol::bottlepopping::cheersglasses: