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Location: Kyoto and Auckland
Work interests: research, editing, science communication
Affiliation/website: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka
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Contact: email = researchcooperative-at-gmail-dot-com
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Work: ethnobotany, prehistory, museum curation
Affiliations: 1996-present: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. 1995: Freelance editor, Kyoto. 1994: JSPS Research Visitor, Kyoto University, Kyoto. 1993: Research Visitor, Australian National University, Canberra. 1991: Visiting Researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.1990: STA Fellow, National Institute for Ornamental Plants, Vegetables, and Tea (NIVOT), Ano, Japan
Contact: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka, Japan 565-8511
Biographical: Established the Research Cooperative in 2001
Favourite Publications: Various

James Lovelock, creator of the "Gaia hypothesis", has died at 103

user image 2022-07-30
By: Research Cooperative
Posted in: Science history

It is hard to imagine that James Lovelock, of all people, has passed away at the age of 103 (26th July 2022). He seemed to be eternal. Yet I doubt that he had any problem with the idea of his own mortality, despite his refusal to retire, and all his efforts to extend life on Earth. From reading about his ideas and his role in science history, he appears to have been an optimist, pessimist, idealist and realist all in one.

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Helena Horton, writing for the Guardian on 27th July 2022,   provides an informative short obituary, and notes:

"His Gaia hypothesis posits that life on Earth is a self-regulating community of organisms interacting with each other and their surroundings."

She then quotes Jonathan Watts (global environment editor at the Guardian). Watts knew Lovelock well and is writing a biography. The following statements are from Watts:

“Without Lovelock, environmental movements across the globe would have started later and taken a very different path.

In the 1960s his ultrasensitive electron capture detector revealed for the first time how toxic chemicals were creeping into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil where we grow our food.

He was the first to confirm the presence of fluorocarbons in the stratosphere and issued one of the earliest warnings that petroleum products were destabilising the climate and damaging the brains of children.

He also warned, in clearer terms than any of his peers, of the dangers humanity posed to the extraordinary web of relations that make Earth uniquely alive in our universe.” 

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A long Wikipedia article dives deeper into various scientific controversies that Lovelock helped to energise.

His own views changed over time, doubtless because he lived long enough to see whether actual trends matched his own predictions.

Lovelock was conscious of having been alarmist in his popular writings, but remained alarmed. Current climate trends, and an ever-expanding range of empirical observations (in the physical, biological and agricultural sciences) give us every reason to be alarmed.

Panic will not be helpful: we need to be clear-thinking and alert to opportunities for positive action.

(Images: Gaia & Melting Ice, Vectorstock, 2022)

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