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The Vanishing Face of Gaia

Gaia theory scientist worries that “green” is becoming the new religion

By Janet Silman

The Vanishing Face of Gaia
By James Lovelock
(Penguin Books) $34

Author James Lovelock is the scientist who originated the Gaia theory that the Earth is a living self-regulating planet. Living organisms have changed the Earth’s climate over the eons, as they themselves have adapted with those changes in an evolutionary dance. Now a prolific little creature with unprecedented intelligence but insufficient wisdom may end the dance prematurely.

That creature is our own species. In The Vanishing Face of Gaia, the problem Lovelock foresees is that seven billion humans have set in motion changes that will shoot the Earth’s global temperature up four to five degrees Celsius in this century. The rise will be uneven and erratic, so we should not be lulled by cool patches. We have given the Earth a fever.

The sudden explosion of carbon dioxide in 200 years is a shock that may or may not kill our planet, but will kill all but a remnant of us, Lovelock writes. There will be oases of arable land, but vast deserts and little water.

Lovelock may be wrong. The climate change deniers think so. Then again, he may be right. His predictions are based on his prolific scientific experience plus observations that include the rapid melt of the Arctic and Antarctic icecaps, as well as the rising sea levels. Natural disasters are increasing, as is drought.

Lovelock lays out some possible geo-engineering fixes such as sequestering carbon dioxide and fertilizing the ocean with iron. However, most methods seem too little too late or portend hazardous side effects.

A pre-eminent scientist, Lovelock worries that “green” is becoming the new religion and blames environmentalists for scaring governments off nuclear power plants, a source of energy he judges to be relatively harmless. Wind power and other renewable sources are insufficient, he writes.

I cannot help but think of Jeremiah. Jerusalem was about to fall while the false prophets cried, “Never!” The biblical prophets did not read tea leaves; they read the signs of the times.

Contrary to the deniers of our time, the signs of climate change are all around us. Lovelock counsels us to adapt. His positive note is that he thinks Gaia will survive. The question is, will we?

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