I first understood the horror of climate danger 37 years ago. When I returned to teaching in Ilford after having my baby, a new teacher in my department gave me a book – Gaia by Professor James Lovelock. Since then I have followed his views and aims. While studying for my Life Sciences degree, I used his books regularly.
A maverick from Letchworth
James Lovelock was born on 26 July 1919 in Letchworth, and was educated there and in London. His family was not wealthy and couldn’t afford to put him through university so he had to forge his own path as a life scientist, environmentalist and futurist. He eventually studied at the University of Manchester and the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
He was a maverick who regularly combined his predictions with a vivid sense of curiosity, humour, and a passion for nature. He was constantly aware of climate change, leading discussions about the ozone layer and the abundance of fluorocarbons in the stratosphere.
The air we breathe, the water we drink
In the sixties, Professor Lovelock became aware of the presence of toxic chemicals (such as petroleum products) in the environment. He designed an ultra-sensitive electron capture detector to show that these chemicals are in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
He was involved in NASA’s search for life on Mars and it was during this time that he developed the Gaia Hypothesis for which he became most widely known.
How I wish we had followed him, in these terrifying times.
Nuclear power and climate catastrophe
Lovelock was an outspoken member of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy. One of his most firm objectives was to use nuclear power to reduce the climate catastrophe. Without nuclear energy, it is difficult to see how the world can survive. We seem to be barely aware of our plight.
Perhaps it was Chernobyl which made the world so fearful of nuclear energy but it is the safest of all energy sources apart from solar.
Most people seem to understand that winters are warmer and spring earlier, that the Arctic is less cold and the sea is rising. So many individual horrors and yet the media isn’t providing the truth. Businesses are largely the same and our government seems at loss.
His last lecture
Professor Lovelock gave his last lecture in 2011. At the age of 92, he spoke about the imperative to win hearts and minds, to make humans understand the terror racing up through our climate catastrophe. We know that global warming is like any fire, it accelerates until there is almost no time left. But still people ignore the facts.
Six months ago, James was still able to walk along the Dorset coast. Unfortunately, he took a bad fall which led to serious complications.
He died on 26 July 2022 – his hundred and third birthday.