Lovelock's Legacy


The venerable centenarian, James Lovelock, inspired an almost cultish following with his Gaia Theory. He proposed that organic life interacted with the inorganic Earth causing Earth itself to mimic organic life. Part of that theory held that humans were akin to microbes - just fine in small numbers but a plague when their impact grew too great. At that point the Earth would develop a fever, kill off most of the microbes, us, and get back on with business more or less as normal.

Lovelock's Gaia Theory was viewed with great skepticism when it was unveiled in the 70s. As climate impacts began to arrive and the Earth entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, the doubters became converts.

There was a blip. In 2012, Lovelock, perhaps finding his doomsday predictions unbearable, retreated and said he was being alarmist. Humanity would not be all but wiped out in the 21st century. Don't worry, be happy.

"The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time … it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising - carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that …

"The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened …

"The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now."

Then, as the 2010s unfolded and climate impacts worsened, James Lovelock decided he hadn't been alarmist after all and returned to his original "we're screwed" position. In this 2020 interview with The Guardian, Lovelock said that both he and our biosphere were in the last one per cent of their existence.

The Gaia theory is just engineering written very large indeed. I mean you have got this ideal rotating ball in space, illuminated by a nice standard star. Up until now, the Earth system has always kept things cool on the Earth, fit for life, that is the essence of Gaia. It’s an engineering job and it has been well done. But I would say the biosphere and I are both in the last 1% or our lives.

The Human Virus or Malthus Vindicated

It’s a matter of sources and sinks. The source is the multiplication of the virus and the sink is anything we can do to get rid of it, which is not at the moment very effective. This is all part of evolution as Darwin saw it. You are not going to get a new species flourishing unless it has a food supply. In a sense that is what we are becoming. We are the food. I could easily make you a model and demonstrate that as the human population on the planet grew larger and larger, the probability of a virus evolving that would cut back the population is quite marked. We’re not exactly a desirable animal to let loose in unlimited numbers on the planet. Malthus was about right. In his day, when the human population was much smaller and distributed less densely across the planet, I don’t think Covid would have had a chance.

He's got a pretty solid point there. Back in the days before man kind was "let loose in unlimited numbers on the planet" the risk of a global pandemic or a succession of pandemics was minimal. Back when humans traveled "at the speed of sail" something like Covid would work its way through the passengers and crew before their ship docked at its destination at the other side of an ocean.

This recent article in The Guardian contends that the next pandemic won't originate in bats or fresh markets. It will instead come from some factory farm.

Global attention is fixed on the origins of Covid-19, either in nature or from a laboratory, but eight or more variants of avian flu, all of which are able to infect and kill humans and are potentially more severe than Covid-19, now regularly rattle around the world’s factory farms barely noticed by governments.

James Lovelock has largely moved on from climate catastrophe. He recently wrote a book about artificial intelligence and robotics

The newest bundle of Lovelock happiness comes in his theory that mankind is about to be enslaved by the very technology we created. What do we want? NOT This. When do we want it? NEVER! You get the idea.

His new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence proposes that the 300,000-year Anthropocene era of Earth’s human domination is ending. Novacene is a new age where our species is doomed to a worse fate than clinging on for dear life at the north pole as previously imagined. Instead we will become lackeys of cyborgs able to think 10,000 times faster than humans. We will be kept on to ensure there are habitable temperatures for these superior intelligences.

Lovelock is hoping to complete a book on human evolution. Seen through his eyes that should be a burner.


  1. Can't say I disagree with Nature's reaction to us, Mound. And even if I did, Nature will always win out in the end.

    1. All of the existential threats that both confront and confound humanity arise from our failure or refusal to live in harmony with nature. We will not restrain ourselves no matter how clear the consequence.


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