An End to Green Romanticism Environmental Guru Lovelock Urges Expansion of Nuclear Energy

James Lovelock is attracting attention again with his provocative ideas. The former hero of the environmental movement has called for an end to "green romanticism." The only way to delay climate catastrophe, says the environmental guru, is through the massive expansion of nuclear energy.

By Marco Evers

A few days ago, the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking gave a speech in London in which he said that nuclear war no longer poses the only threat to humanity's very existence. According to Hawking, the dangers posed by climate change are now almost equally as great, and we must do everything that is humanly possible if we are to have any hope of averting them.

When James Lovelock heard about Hawkings' lecture, three hundred and fifty kilometers away at his remote estate near Cornwall, he exclaimed loudly: "Hawking is underestimating the danger."

Lovelock is a chemist, inventor, author and visionary environmental guru. Using a detector he invented himself, he was the first to provide evidence of ozone-consuming fluorochlorohydrocarbons (FCHC) in the atmosphere. More importantly, Lovelock is the inventor of the famous "Gaia hypothosis," which holds that the planet (which he named after the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia), constantly controls all of its systems on land, in the water and in the air in such a way as to preserve life -- almost as if the earth itself were a living organism.

Lovelock's fellow scientists were initially appalled by the New Age nature of his theory. But now his ideas have not only become a cornerstone of the environmental movement, but have also acquired a new name: "Earth System Science."

Lovelock's current prognoses for the earth's inhabitants are as gloomy as they are provocative. He is convinced that the 21st century will not be a good one. He claims that climate change caused by human activity will devastate large swaths of the earth, and by the year 2100 there will only be about a billion people left -- and possibly only half as many.

Lovelock is now 87 years old and happy that he will be able to avoid this future -- although he has nine grandchildren. Sometimes he feels like a Roman citizen living around the year 480, watching as an empire meant for eternity fades away, or like a doctor delivering a fatal diagnosis. And at times he probably relishes how he distresses his audiences (he is in demand worldwide as a speaker) in his role as a prophet of doom. "Even a nuclear war," says Lovelock, "would not lead to the level of devastation worldwide that global overheating will cause."

No world power, no scientist, no politician, no consumer forsaking his or her familiar comforts, and neither emissions trading nor wind energy nor biofuels will be capable of preventing the earth's demise, he says. According to Lovelock, it will at best be possible to delay the catastrophe for a while -- primarily through the massive expansion of nuclear energy.

Lovelock presents his bold theories in his shocking page-turner "The Revenge of Gaia," which will be published in German in February. The gist of Lovelock's message is that humanity must begin an "orderly retreat" involving smart planning and technology if it hopes to save its most precious asset: civilization itself.

Hardly any reputable climate researcher or politician is willing to wholeheartedly embrace this combative octogenarian's predictions. After all, the civilized world is beginning to seriously address the need to protect itself against climate change. Climate change was one of the dominant topics at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her counterparts to devise a new climate treaty. The Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012, but a successor treaty is not yet in sight.

In a letter delivered to US President George W. Bush last week, the heads of global corporations like General Electric, Dupont and Alcoa urged him to support radical measures to protect the world's climate. After having long turned a deaf ear to the problem, Bush has suddenly taken to calling climate change a "serious challenge."

Waste gases burn and steam belches from a steel mill in Canada.

Waste gases burn and steam belches from a steel mill in Canada.

Lovelock, the apocalyptic prophet, is only moderately impressed by such efforts. The elderly gentleman sits in his study on his estate eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate. The stream outside used to freeze over almost every winter, he says, but this hasn't happened since 1991. England's first commercial olive grove was recently planted, and vineyards are also becoming established there. Scorpions will soon be indigenous to Kent, which has always enjoyed the kind of mild climate that has made its gardens famous. Botanists say that palm trees and eucalyptus will be part of England's future landscape.

Lovelock believes that the world needs different political leaders, politicians who are willing to accept the unavoidable and stop pretending that they can do something to stop global warming.


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