Indefatigable climate warrior

By Partho Basu
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 03:16:47 AM

Book>> He Knew He Was Right by John and Mary Gribben Penguin Rs 450

DownToEarth Book>> He Knew He Was Right by John and Mary Gribben Penguin Rs 450

In 1975, a New Scientist article by a British scientist put forward the idea that Earths living forms act as regulators that control conditions on the planet. The piece described the interactions between them as chemical feedback that keep our world at its ecological best.

The idea appealed to hippies but enraged scientists and even the Church which described the idea of chemical feedback as non-Christian ecological satanism. James Lovelock, the scientist in question, named the system after the Greek goddess of Earth and called it the Gaia theory.

The theory is mainstream now. But it is one of the supreme ironies of intellectual and scientific history that Lovelock has achieved recognition when doomsdayers are forecasting the end of the Earth.

Lovelock himself believes the planets abuse is making this system work against man, and that this means climate change will be impossible to avert.

Down to Earth Lovelock has notched up many achievements, notably his invention of an instrument crucial for documenting the use of the pesticide ddt and ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons.

He Knew He Was Right, an authorized biography by John and Mary Gribbin, gives a good sense of the British scientists independent spirit. Two groups of readers will benefit from this biography: those who have read on Gaia and those who have little or no knowledge of Gaia and may even be environmental sceptics. This book will introduce them to the man, to Gaia and give a readable background to the indisputable trends that confront us.

Lovelock has another remarkable project in mind: to see the Earth as he has never seen it before. Richard Branson, industrialist, is developing a rocket plane to take passengers to the edge of space, and has promised Lovelock a free ride.

P Basu teaches chemistry at Calcutta University

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