In A Rough Ride to the Future, James Lovelock - the great scientific visionary of our age - presents a radical vision of humanity's future as the thinking brain of our Earth-system
James Lovelock, who has been hailed as 'the man who conceived the first wholly new way of looking at life on earth since Charles Darwin' (Independent) and 'the most profound scientific thinker of our time' (Literary Review) continues, in his 95th year, to be the great scientific visionary of our age. This book introduces two new Lovelockian ideas. The first is that three hundred years ago, when Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine, he was unknowingly beginning what Lovelock calls 'accelerated evolution', a process which is bringing about change on our planet roughly a million times faster than Darwinian evolution. The second is that as part of this process, humanity has the capacity to become the intelligent part of Gaia, the self-regulating Earth system whose discovery Lovelock first announced nearly 50 years ago. In addition, Lovelock gives his reflections on how scientific advances are made, and his own remarkable life as a lone scientist.
The contribution of human beings to our planet is, Lovelock contends, similar to that of the early photosynthesisers around 3.4 billion years ago, which made the Earth's atmosphere what it was until very recently. By our domination and our invention, we are now changing the atmosphere again. There is little that can be done about this, but instead of feeling guilty about it we should recognise what is happening, prepare for change, and ensure that we survive as a species so we can contribute to - perhaps even guide - the next evolution of Gaia. The road will be rough, but if we are smart enough life will continue on Earth in some form far into the future.
Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, JAMES LOVELOCK is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis (now Gaia Theory). His many books on the subject include Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979), The Revenge of Gaia (2006), and The Vanishing Face of Gaia (2009). In 2003 he was made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty the Queen, in 2005 Prospect magazine named him one of the world's top 100 public intellectuals, and in 2006 he received the Wollaston Medal, the highest Award of the UK Geological Society.
As one of the originators of the Gaia hypothesis, which emphasized "our irreplaceable value to the Earth" and its value to us, Lovelock (The Vanishing Face of Gaia) has written extensively over the years about the complicated relationship humans have with nature. In his latest volume, the Royal Society fellow offers further observations on "our old and familiar planetary home." Striking a cautionary but measured tone and avoiding polemics, Lovelock warns readers about excessive industrial growth, global warming, "hunger in the face of an ever-growing population," and constant shifts of market economics. These scare and confuse us, he says, making us feel "like a colony of red ants exposed when we lift the garden slab." Lovelock also scatters throughout this slim narrative references to his long career in the U.S. and U.K. as a scientist and inventor "professionally qualified in physics, chemistry and non-clinical medicine." This includes his work in the 1960s for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and his previous work on the Gaia hypothesis (originated in the 1970s). In this way, Lovelock's book becomes not simply another look at Mother Nature's uncertain future, but a revealing glimpse at the life of an outspoken and accomplished man of ideas.