James Lovelock, often deemed the ‘Climate Prophet’ first developed the Gaia hypothesis helping to better our understanding of the earth.

James Lovelock, the environmental scientist who first proposed the Gaia hypothesis, has died on his 103rd birthday. Lovelock’s wife and children said Wednesday that he died the previous evening ‘in his home surrounded by his family,’ from complications related to a fall. The family said until six months ago Lovelock ‘was still able to walk along the coast near his home in Dorset and take part in interviews, but his health deteriorated after a bad fall earlier this year’

A full statement posted on Twitter reads: ‘Our beloved James Lovelock died yesterday in his home surrounded by his family on his 103rd birthday. ‘To the world, he was best known as a scientific pioneer, climate prophet and conceiver of the Gaia Theory. To us he was a loving husband and wonderful father with a boundless sense of curiosity, a mischievous sense of humour, and a passion for nature. Up until six months ago, he was still able to walk along the coast near his home in Dorset and take part in interviews, but his health deteriorated after a bad fall earlier this year. He passed away at 21:55 of complications related to the fall. The funeral will be private. There will be a public memorial service later. The family requests privacy at this time.’

His contribution to environmental science included developing a device to measure ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere and pollutants in air, soil and water.

What is the Gaia hypothesis?

The Gaia hypothesis – first proposed in the 70s – doesn’t claim that the earth is actually ‘alive’ – but that all living organisms and their non-living surroundings are bound together into a ‘system’ that maintains the conditions for life.

It was initially scorned by scientists, but is now being seriously investigated by Earth scientists and scientists in other disciplines – observing how the evolution of life contributed to the stability of temperature and ocean salinity. It’s also inspired various political and religious movements – with many interpreting the hypothesis as a claim that the Earth actually is alive.

The Gaia hypothesis saw the Earth itself as a complex, self-regulating system that created and maintained the conditions for life on the planet. It was formulated by Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s.

The Gaia theory was named after the Earth goddess in Greek mythology. Gaia, a name suggested to Professor Lovelock by Lord Of The Flies author William Golding during an evening walk and drink at the village pub.

It’s also inspired various political and religious movements, with many interpreting the hypothesis as a claim that the Earth actually is alive. Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Science Museum Group Board of Trustees, said: ‘Arguably the most important independent scientist of the last century, Jim Lovelock was decades ahead of his time in thinking about the Earth and climate and his unique approach was an inspiration for many. ‘Originality of thought, scepticism of the status quo and above all a focus on invention lie at the heart of his remarkable contribution to science.’

Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, added: ‘The Science Museum held a special place in Jim’s life and I believe his significant research is an extraordinary testament to the power of museums to inspire young people. ‘Thanks to our acquisition of his archive, his work will continue to inspire the scientists and inventors of the future.’ In 2014, the Science Museum launched an exhibition about Lovelock’s research, based on his archive which was acquired by the Science Museum Group in 2012. Speaking at the time, Lovelock declared: ‘I attribute the science I have done to the inspiration I received from visits to the museum from the age of 7 onwards.’

Lovelock was born on July 26, 1919, in Letchworth Garden City, and grew up in London in a Quaker family. He began his education by reading in Brixton public library and visiting the Science Museum, in South Kensington. As a youngster, he quickly became interested in science, through the writings of Jules Verne and H.G Wells. After leaving school, he was accepted to study chemistry at the University of Manchester.

Despite being registered as a conscientious objector when the Second World War broke out, in accordance with his Quaker beliefs, he was moved by the extensive naval losses and joined the war effort as an inventor. In 1948, Lovelock completed a PhD in medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He then joined the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, where he spent 20 years of his career. In 1956 he published a memorable study in Proceedings B involving freezing and resuscitating hamsters.

In 1957, while working with British biochemist A.J.P. Martin, Lovelock invented the Electron Capture Detector (ECD) – a device used in gas chromatography that draws upon the properties of to detect trace atoms and molecules in a gas sample. Among his other inventions was a pencil that could write on the wet glass of a Petri dish. Between 1961 and 1964, Lovelock served as professor at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston. While there, he worked closely with NASA to develop instruments for its probes, including the Viking spacecraft, which landed on Mars in 1976.

He believed that the Red Planet could not support life – a view that seems to have been confirmed by later evidence. He was also made Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974. He also helped to develop tracking equipment for MI5, earning him the moniker as a real-life ‘Q’ in reference to the James Bond films.

Following his work at Baylor, Lovelock accepted visiting professorships at the University of Houston and the University of Reading. It was during this time that he developed the Gaia hypothesis. In 2004, Lovelock caused controversy when he broke with many fellow environmentalists by pronouncing that ‘only nuclear power can now halt global warming’.

Two years later, in his 2006 book ‘The Revenge of Gaia’, he described the threat of nuclear waste ‘a nightmare fantasy wholly without substance in the real world’ and nothing compared with carbon dioxide.
In his last book, Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, published in 2019, Lovelock argued that machines will evolve to outperform us by the end of this century but, reassuringly, will still need humans just as we need plants. ‘Novacene’ refers to a time on Earth where the predominant form of life will not be organic. The next stage of evolution is a world in which the dominant form of life is not humans, but ‘highly intelligent’ technology, he proposed. Highly advanced programs will evolve and begin to think faster, all by themselves – and may soon become tens of thousands of times faster than us, far overtaking the intellect of the human brain.

‘We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings,’ Professor Lovelock wrote in his final book. ‘Do not be depressed by this. We have played our part.’

The month the book was released, Professor Lovelock told the Mail on Sunday that he thought the cyborgs will very much be in charge. ‘I get very irritated when people think of our successors as being convenient butlers or slaves that will do everything we want and they are under our control,’ he said.
‘Cyborgs will be much more than our children, because they are totally different and have their own origins. ‘But the idea that they will replace us is silly. We would co-exist with them just as we co-exist with plants. They will view us much in the way that we view plants – slower. They might very well find certain aspects of us interesting, in the same way that we might go to Kew Gardens.’

Dr Roger Highfield, Science Director of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘Jim was a nonconformist who had a unique vantage point that came from being, as he put it, half scientist and half inventor.
‘Endless ideas bubbled forth from this synergy between making and thinking. ‘Although he is most associated with Gaia, he did an extraordinary range of research, from freezing hamsters to detecting life on Mars, popularised his ideas in many books, and he was more than happy to bristle a few feathers, whether by articulating his dislike of consensus views, formal education and committees, or by voicing his enthusiastic support for nuclear power.’

Professor Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said: ‘I am devastated by Jim’s death. He was a source of inspiration to me for my entire career, and in fact his first book on Gaia was a major reason why I chose to work on climate change and Earth system modelling.
I feel deeply privileged to have come to know him and work with him over the years. Jim’s influence is widespread, profound and long-lasting. He will be remembered for his warm, fun-loving personality, his truly innovative thinking, his clarity of communication, his willingness to take bold risks in developing his ideas, and his abilities to bring people together and learn from them.’

Original source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk