Scientist James Lovelock is a giant in environmental circles. He’s responsible for developing the “Gaia” theory—the idea that the Earth functions, in a way, as a self-regulating organism with a metabolism that helps it regulate its own temperature. Of course, the name of the theory has made it attractive to the Earth-worshipping crowd, and at times, Lovelock’s ideas have been used for those purposes.
But Lovelock is an interesting and independent thinker, and the Gaia hypothesis, as long as it’s not overworked, has some merit. When Guillermo Gonzalez and I wrote The Privileged Planet, we defended the basic idea while trying to separate the wheat from the chaff—that is, the solid science from the speculation and theology. Unfortunately, Lovelock has tended to associate himself with some fringe-y environmental stuff at various times, so that his interesting argument is sometimes dismissed by people who might otherwise find it persuasive.
I’m glad to see an objective piece on Lovelock in the Times of London by Charles Clover. What’s especially interesting is that Lovelock has some nice things to say about “climate skeptics”:
What, I wondered, would be the great man’s view on the latest twists in the atmospheric story—the Climategate emails and the sloppy science revealed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? To my surprise, he immediately professed his admiration for the climate-change sceptics.
“I think you have to accept that the sceptics have kept us sane—some of them, anyway,” he said. “They have been a breath of fresh air. They have kept us from regarding the science of climate change as a religion. It had gone too far that way. There is a role for sceptics in science. They shouldn’t be brushed aside. It is clear that the angel side wasn’t without sin.”
Lovelock has been known to challenge conventional wisdom. For instance, he has argued that if we want to get away from a carbon economy, we have to build more nuclear power plants. In his comments about skeptics, he seems to once again be showing his independent streak.