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Gaia Theorist James Lovelock Turns 95

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Saturday will be James Lovelock’s 95th birthday. Lovelock is an English scientist, a commentator on change in our ecosphere, and the originator of the Gaia theory, which holds that the Earth is a self-regulating organism.

Rather than struggle by myself to write a fitting tribute, I have pulled out a copy of one of his more recent books, The Vanishing Face of Gaia (2009), to reprint a few choice quotes. If you haven’t read Lovelock yet, here’s a good start.

It was good to recognize the huge efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore with the Nobel Peace Prize. . . As we hold our meetings and talk of stewardship, Gaia still moves step by step towards the hot state. . . Perhaps we were celebrating because the once rather worrying voice of the IPCC now spoke comfortably of consensus. . . Do not suppose that conventional wisdom among scientists is similar to consensus among politicians or lawyers.  Science is about the truth and should be wholly indifferent to fairness or political expediency. . . It is said that truth is the first casualty of war and it seems that this is also true of climate change. . . the Kyoto Agreement was made more than ten years ago and we have done little more to halt climate change since then other than almost empty gestures. (pp. 4-8)

James Lovelock
James Lovelock.

In its way the green ideology that now seems to inspire Northern Europe and the USA may be in the end. . . damaging to the real environment. . . we will soon discover that nearly all of what remains of our countryside becomes the site for fields planted with biofuel crops, biogas generators and industrial-sized wind farms – all this when what land we have is wholly needed to grow food. Don’t feel guilty about opting out of this nonsense: closer examination reveals it as an elaborate scam in the interests of a few nations whose economies are enriched in the short term by the sale of wind turbines, biofuel plants and other green-sounding energy equipment. Don’t for a moment believe the sales talk that these will save the planet.  (p. 12)

Nuclear energy is by far the most effective way to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. . . A wind farm of twenty 1 MW turbines requires over 10,000 tonnes of concrete. It would require 200 of these wind farms covering an area the size of Dartmoor to equal the constant power output of a single coal-fired or nuclear power station. Even more absurd, a full-sized nuclear or coal-fired power station would have to be built for each of these monster wind farms  to back up the turbines for the 75 per cent of time when the wind was either too high or too low. As if this were not enough to damn wind energy, the construction of a 1 GW wind farm would use a quantity of concrete, 2 million tons, sufficient to build a town for 100,000 people (and) release about 1 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air. . . Wind farms are hopelessly inadequate to the UK as a source of energy (and) costly and inefficient sources of energy. You will soon discover this when your electricity bills and taxes rise to pay for renewable energy we do not need. . . These bills are imposed upon us so that politicians can appear green and good. . . it does nothing for the Earth and will only add more stress. . . (pp. 16-18)

The plight of the British in 1940 [when Lovelock was 21] resembles the state of the civilized world now. At that time we had had nearly a decade of the well-intentioned, but quite wrong belief that peace was all that mattered. The followers of the peace lobbies of the 1930s resembled the green movements now; their intentions were more than good, but wholly inappropriate for the war that was about to start. (p. 20)

I think we fail to welcome nuclear energy as the one good and reliable power source because we have been grievously misled by a concatenation of lies. Falsehood has been built on falsehood and is mindlessly repeated by the media until belief in the essential evil of all things nuclear is part of an instinctive response. (p. 69)

What is remarkable about nuclear waste is that it fades away. In 600 years the high-level waste from a nuclear power station is no more radioactive or dangerous than the uranium ore from which it originated. Far more importantly, there is hardly any nuclear waste to worry about. The yearly output of waste from a 1000 MW nuclear power station is  enough to fill a London taxi. Now perhaps you see why I would welcome its burial at my home in Devon.  It would be a useful source of heat. . . The nuclear waste is a minor burial problem but the carbon dioxide waste will kill us all if we go on emitting it. (p. 70)

The Vanishing Face of Gaia
The Vanishing Face of Gaia, by James Lovelock.

My wife Sandy and I live in a remote part of England. . . our BlackBerry mobile telephone keeps us always in touch. What madness it would be for us to reject the chance to communicate because we feared cancer from the microwave radiation of mobile telephones. But this is what more than half of us do nationally by rejecting nuclear energy on the same insubstantial grounds. (p. 73)

The cash flow of nuclear industry is tiny compared with that of oil, gas or coal companies, and the money available for advertising the advantages of nuclear is proportionately less. . . If an engineer in a Japanese nuclear power station drops a wrench on his foot and needs first aid it is given headline exposure in our newspapers as a “Serious accident in Japanese nuclear power station.” The death of a hundred or more Chinese miners in an underground coal mine explosion rates not more than a small paragraph in the depths of the same paper. What I have just written is no exaggeration. (p. 76)

I applaud our present Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, for having the strength and wisdom to start rebuilding nuclear energy. It must have taken guts to go against the political pressures from Europe and those members of his party still reliving the fun of marching to Aldermaston proclaiming the need to make Britain a nuclear-free zone. (p. 90)