James Lovelock has worn many hats. He worked with NASA to make instruments for studying extraterrestrial planetary atmospheres and surfaces. He invented the electron capture detector for studying traces of various chemicals in gas. He has been awarded multiple prizes from many academic and environmental groups.
However, he is best known as the founding father of the much-loved (by environmental groups) “Gaia Theory.” According to GaiaTheory.org…
“The Gaia Theory posits that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.” In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc.”
This seductive reasoning ignores the reality that life evolves, as best it can, to survive in a given environment, and while life may change the environment it does not “automatically control” it to “maintain its own habitability.” But my point here is not to argue with the Gaia theory.
Lovelock was an icon in environmentalist circles, but since he started publicly endorsing nuclear energy a few years ago his aura seems to be fading. He has been condemned as being senile or worse (see here or comments here).
In a recent comment (see discussion at Bishop-Hill.net) Lovelock condemns a single proposed wind turbine in a bucolic English setting, calling it “industrial vandalism.” But more importantly he goes on to say…
“we should look to the French who have wisely chosen nuclear energy as their principal source; a single nuclear power station provides as much as 3200 large wind turbines.”
I am not one to condemn wind turbines for aesthetic reasons. In fact, I find that modern wind turbines have their own beauty in their graceful structure. But Lovelock is certainly right in his comparison of the utility of wind turbines with nuclear energy.
Lovelock closes his comments with this homily…
I am an environmentalist and founder member of the Greens but I bow my head in shame at the thought that our original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. We never intended a fundamentalist Green movement that rejected all energy sources other than renewable, nor did we expect the Greens to cast aside our priceless ecological heritage because of their failure to understand that the needs of the Earth are not separable from human needs. We need take care that the spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island, monuments of a failed civilisation.