Science

James Lovelock, father of Gaia theories, dies on his 103rd birthday

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Yesterday was a miss day, and science lost two days to one of its most prominent climate contributors. James Lovelock, father of the famous and controversial Gaia theory, has died at the age of 103.e birthday, July 26th. Sparkling and full of life, a scientist and an independent inventor, he would have perished from the consequences and complications of an unfortunate fall. Often considered a non-conformist, he will leave behind an invaluable legacy, one who, long before his peers, hypothesized that the Earth functions as a gigantic and complex self-regulating living entity. According to him, the Earth is now beginning to die due to the effects of climate change. Today, when some of his predictions seem to be coming true, will we make better decisions, if not too late, in managing our resources and our planet?

One of Britain’s most respected scientists, James Lovelock, was a lone character whose groundbreaking theories met with great resistance. Working alone in his lab, he put forth one of his most famous theories in the 1970s, that the Earth would be an interconnected living system capable of self-regulation to sustain the life it hosted. Thus, its biosphere would function as a single organism, capable of actively manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere in such a way as to satisfy its needs. Thus, according to his hypotheses, the Earth will be endowed with abilities that exceed the elements of which it is composed.

These hypotheses, which seem consistent with the stabilization of the early atmosphere and the emergence of life on Earth, have long been controversial. However, Lovelock’s work would make it possible to understand the extent of human impact on the biosphere. Thus, we would lead him to the end of his life, hindering his natural ability to self-regulate.

ahead of my time

The Gaia theory, also called the biogeochemical hypothesis, was originally put forward by other scientists. But Lovelock, in collaboration with the American microbiologist Lynn Markoulis and Diane Hitchcock, a Pentagon consultant, was the first to solidify the theory by bringing together several scientific disciplines that no one before him had thought of uniting.

In Lovelock’s view, institutions and universities need to be more open, as often a researcher associated with one discipline does not see far enough. Chemists, for example, lack knowledge of complex biological mechanisms, and surgeons often know much less than general practitioners or pharmacologists about common pathologies, even though they have technically been doing the same research for most of their academic careers.

This openness to many scientific disciplines allowed Lovelock to make atmospheric measurements of dimethyl sulfide (a volatile and highly environmentally toxic compound) at various locations around the globe. He concluded that the content (like that of many other gases) was largely regulated by marine organisms and subsequently published the first book on Gaia theory in 1972.

His unique understanding of the Earth system enabled him to predict decades into the future the growing climate risks associated with fossil fuels, the saturation of the atmosphere with ozone-depleting chemicals, and the dangers of industrial and microplastic pollution.

In the 1960s, his ultra-sensitive electron detector made it possible for the first time to describe how toxic chemicals seep into the air, drinking water sources, and farmland. He was also the first to discover the presence of fluorocarbons in the atmosphere and that petroleum-derived products are highly toxic to children’s brains and seriously interfere with Earth’s climate regulation.

This research led to the Gaia hypothesis that natural disasters and epidemics are also part of the Earth’s regulation system. Episodes of the Black Death, for example, according to these hypotheses, could be caused by the natural defense system that our planet uses to balance and stabilize its population so that resources can be restored and grab everyone.

According to Lovelock, epidemics act as systems of sinks (drugs) and sources (viruses). This would be part of the evolution described by Darwin, in which a species reproduces because it has an abundance of food. We would be compared to food for viruses, and the growth of the world’s population would be directly related to their evolution.

Knowing the problems very early on, Lovelock spent his life fighting for the climate. His theory is now one of the foundations of climate science and has even led NASA to approach him about the search for life on Mars.

Confirmed Warnings

Despite warnings about the consequences that seem clear, global awareness and environmental action still seem to be lagging behind. In the days before his death, Lovelock believed he had little chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. However, without him, many environmental movements around the world would have started much later.

His decades of research have demonstrated and validated the magnitude of the impact of human activity on the Earth’s ability to self-regulate. Since yesterday, we have been living on credit because the annual renewable resources of the Earth have already been used up.

Lovelock’s climate predictions are also backed up by the extreme heatwaves that Europe is currently experiencing and often make headlines. Siberia, that impenetrable icy desert, is experiencing the most intense heat it has ever known. Floods and extreme weather threaten more and more frequently around the world. Entire populations are forced to relocate in order to survive, and increasingly deadly epidemics are emerging at an alarming rate.

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