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The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning
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127 of 133 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Lovelock merits our attention because he has been proven right in predicting grim events. Indeed, Lovelock's grim views have in some ways been too optimistic in light of the speed with which the global environmental situation has been declining.

I think his views in this book are too pessimistic but Lovelock is a creative original thinker about science who does not fit into neat categories. He has infuriated a lot of his fellow environmentalists with his advocacy of nuclear power. He does so because he sees the huge size of the gap between what is needed and what exists. For example, President Obama has promised to "double" the percentage of renewable energy America uses in a few years. It sounds great..... until you realize renewable energy is less than one percent of America's energy now. (Meanwhile, renewable energy is being very badly hurt by the global economic crisis.) Optimistic predictions about a "boom" in renewable energy over the past 20 years by various environmental advocates have turned out to be pie in the sky. It hasn't happened. Hopefully, it will happen now. However, according to predictions of the International Energy Agency, the share of the world's energy coming from coal, the worst form of energy, is going to go up, not down by 2020. This is why Lovelock also supports research on making coal less disastrous although it's never going to be "clean" as claimed by the coal industry and its millions of dollars in advertising. (Some environmental purists have also attacked him for this.)

Lovelock's book should be read in conjunction with a new book by Gus Speth The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability What is very interesting is that Speth was the founder of the World Resources Institute, one of the main American establishment environmental groups. What is very interesting is that Speth now also calls for radical change and expresses a deep disillusionment with the kind of moderate solutions he used to advocate.

What is lacking in this book is a clearer message of realistic hope. Today's problems are not hopeless. I would recommend Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (Substantially Revised) I also have an Amazon Listmania list on my profile (which may be listed below in Listmania lists for this book) which covers other thoughtful books about the future.

Overall, Lovelock is worth reading. I have spent a good part of my life studying the scientific data about the environment. Never before in history has there been a bigger disconnect between science and politics than today. From the destruction of the world's fisheries and rain forests to the poisoning of the air and the water, the warning signs are all there and have been there for a long time.

What's new about today is that things have deteriorated to a point that debt and political and religious delusions can no longer paper over disastrous problems.

Is Lovelock correct in seeing a maximum capacity of two billion people (over four billion below today's population) on our planet? I don't know. What I do feel, however, is that if more people read his book, maybe the world could drum up the political courage to adopt long overdue reforms. If you are looking for sugary happy talk about how a "green economy" can be created by the exact same political and business leaders who created today's global disaster - without a lot of pain and tough choices, this book is not for you. We desperately need a "green economy" but the public needs to know the truth about the cost. We are living in the greatest age of "green washing" in history. I don't agree with all Lovelock says but he is truly prophetic figure who has had the courage of his convictions in dealing with both polluters and other environmental leaders. This book is worth reading.
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75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The Vanishing Face of Gaia is my first exposure to James Lovelock's work and is my first in-depth reading of a work about Gaia theory, the idea that the Earth is a self-regulating organism. Environmentalists and New Age movements speak of the earth being alive and this perspective is often misrepresented, being lumped in Lovelock's ideas. The origination of Gaia in the 1960's didn't win any skeptics over either. Sadly, mainstream science has sidelined Lovelock's ideas for the last 30 years, gaining acceptance only recently as predictions from the theory have been proven true time after time. In fact, 8 out of the ten major predictions (table of predictions on p.177) of Gaia theory have been proven or generally accepted, including:

1. Oxygen has not varied by more than 5% from 21% for the past 200 million years (confirmed through studying ice-core and sedimentary analysis)

2. Boreal and tropical forests are part of global climate regulation (generally accepted)

3. The biological transfer of selenium from the ocean to the land as dimethly selenide (confirmed through direct measurements)

4. Climate regulation through cloud albedo control linked to algal gas emissions (many tests indicate high probability, pollution interferes)

That's a much better hit rate than string theory, an idea receiving magnitudes of greater funding. Unfortunately the decades of widespread skepticism has prevented many leading bodies of science and policy groups to ignore the dire implications of a living Earth, most specifically in relation to climate.

Lovelock was the first scientist to invent instrumentation that could accurately demonstrate the accumulation of CFCs in the atmosphere, leading to international action on the hole in the ozone layer. And his work on atmospheric, geological and ecological sciences led him to become the first researcher to link the fields, understanding that the earth's life regulates the atmosphere, and that the earth's atmosphere regulates life. How is this so? The original Daisyworld model created by Lovelock (although seemingly common sense to us now but revolutionary for its time) was a convincing demonstration.

Years of added complexity later, Daisyworld still stands up as an accurate model of reality and the most definitive link between climate and biology. Unlike the IPCC projections of a gradual climate change, trending towards warmer temperatures is not how the earth or biology acts. Massive leaps are common as demonstrated by several graphs in the book. Disturbingly, the coldest years are prior to the major warming years, giving a false sense of security. Anthony Watts, through his blog, provides quality commentary on scientific information that disputes the IPCC climate change models, however Anthony doubts that global warming is occurring. Lovelock shares similar skepticism but provides evidence that the IPCC models are not severe enough in their projections of the serious lifestyle changes we'll need to make to mitigate a changing climate. Scientists have held up the progress of the world for a long time, with their Cartesian deterministic views, perhaps the eminence of a scientist is measured by the length of time he holds up progress. Lovelock quotes Ogden Nash to demonstrate,

`I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist,
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
`You mean,'he said, `a crocodile.'

Lovelock's perspective is credible and valuable, disputing many claims of the environmental movement, leading me to question some of my own approaches. For one, Lovelock states that nuclear fission is our only hope to avoid poverty and CO2 accumulation. Unfortunately I think we've missed the boat on this because the US couldn't build the political will to dedicate $700 billion dollars for a secure future. Why nuclear? A fission plant has no emissions other than water vapor while in operation. Nuclear waste fades away after 600 years. The yearly output of a 1,000MW station is enough to fill a medium sized car. Compared with the ash from coal that no one seems to think about, the CO2 emitted, or the manufacturing that goes into transporting a wind turbine/PV panel the entire process of nuclear fission energy is by far the cleanest. The issue of nuclear waste is no different than dealing with the issue of defunct PV panels or wind turbine components, only the nuclear waste is much lower in volume while needing greater attention and security. Lovelock goes on to give some excellent examples of how nuclear energy is mis-represented, with 27 people having lost their lives due to the historical operation of nuclear power plants. How does that measure up? On December 3rd, 1984 a pesticde plant accident in Bhopal, India instantly killed 3,800 when a cloud of methyl isocyanate gas leaked into the night air. (And many more in the following weeks.) Yes, nuclear energy isn't perfect but it is as close to perfect as we can get.

Why not renewables? Lovelock argues that the focus on "green" energy is propagated by those seeking to drive new financial bubbles, continuing the manufacturing status quo, and doing little to actually mitigate climate impacts. We always idealize the wind turbine but forget that a combustion turbine has to be run on-site at a wind farm to keep the frequency of the turbines regulated for use on an electric grid. This simple fact has led some studies to conclude that wind farms are greater contributors to CO2 emissions than a coal plant, with wind farms emitting more than 840 pounds of CO2 per MWh vs 8.8 for nuclear power. Photovoltaics are better, but land requirements are devastating, 8 acres per megawatt. Whereas a few hundred acres can house a 2,500MW nuclear plant. We need that land for farming and for return to Gaia so that the earth can do what it does best, self regulate. Where I significantly diverge from Lovelock is through is views on farming. On p. 134 of the book he details how synthesized food may be our only hope. If it is count me out. Real food can't be substituted for and the nutrient model of eating has been proven as flawed.

This book is full of interesting insights and interesting perspectives on how screwed we are. The basis of Lovelock's argument, and reason for writing the book, is that we've outgrown the Earth as a species. Humans must learn to view themselves as equals in the scheme of ecology, not as a domineering species. The massive population we now support is subsidized at the expense of slowly renewing resources like coal and oil and at the cost of a damaged biosphere. As we exceed Gaia's limits, the climate will adjust to fix the problem. This doesn't mean the end of humanity but a severe readjustment to population centers and population numbers. James Lovelock has convinced me of this through his analysis of Gaia theory applied to the Earth. Could we avoid massive global warming? Yes. An unexpected minimum of sunspots like we are currently experiencing. Massive volcanic eruptions. Successful geoengineering efforts(although highly unlikely, as Lovelock states). These could all bring an end to global warming. But they are highly unlikely. Our only plan as a species should be to adapt and realize our intelligence as human beings. Only then can we ensure our duty to survive and to carry on the legacy of the Earth. The relentless critique of the "green movement" and of environmentalism, a field many credit Lovelock for starting, was cause enough for me to find this book valuable. But the scientific discussion within is of far greater importance as we enter a turbulent time in the existence of the human species. This is a challenging read for the climate skeptic and the climate evangelists alike.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Since the 1970's Lovelock has written extensively on the Gaia Theory; the incredibly simple but contentious idea that the planet Earth is a self-organizing system. More than a rock floating in space inhabited by carbon based life-forms, the Earth is a 4.5 billion year old dynamic system whose components, rocks, soil, bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, waters, and atmosphere, interact to maintain a fit environment within which life survives and evolves along with the evolving environment. The core elements of this idea are not new to earth science. James Hutton (1787), the father of Earth sciences, considered the planet to be a macro-organism. Vladimir Vernadsky (1926), the pioneer of biogeochemistry considered the Earth's crust so entwined with biology that it's study through traditional mineralogy a mistake. The biophysiologist, Lawrence Henderson (1913), understood that Darwinian Evolution, the survival of the fittest, could only take place in an environment that was itself fit for habitation. Still the cloistered disciplines within the academy balk at the interdisciplinary requirements of Gaia theory and the teleological nature of many of its hypotheses.

The Vanishing Face of Gaia is in many ways a review of Lovelock's earlier works updated and focused on the question of how we (globally) as a people need to think about how we will adapt to climate change - not how do we think we might avoid climate change. He argues that many of the spokes-people for the present Green movement are advancing a self-serving political and economic agenda, and like the Sirens, threaten to lead humanity onto rocky shoals. Here, he clearly articulates the fallacies supporting of our cultural sacred cows - renewable energy, and the demonized - nuclear energy; reiterating many of the themes from The Revenge of Gaia (2007). Biographical sketches from Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist (2001), The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth (1995), and Gaia: Medicine for an Ailing Planet (1991), flesh out these arguments and provide them with historic context within the evolving Gaia theory. This integration of Lovelock's earlier works makes this an ideal introduction for those new to Gaia. This book is a pleasant reminiscence for those who have followed the debates and growth of Gaia theory, with the last chapter a special bonus. I imagined while reading this last chapter, sitting around the kitchen table listening to one last lecture connecting the many diverse threads that make up, not the author's life, but all of humanity.

Page one of the book seems to explain the formal appositive clause in the title. James Lovelock, scientist, inventor, naturalist, and Gaian Physiologist, now at the age of 90 years does not plan to write any more books. Instead he wants to go into space and look down upon the face of Gaia. I want to just say thank you to the author who has inspired and challenged much of my own thinking as an earth scientist. Enjoy the trip.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Essential reading for everyone concerned about the survival of family and progeny as this century progresses and the disasters of food production failure, energy depletion and materials shortages unfold. Also, all politicians and policy makers planetwide need to know from this book that the collapse is nearly inevitable. Lovelock contends that the continuation of advanced civilization is at stake, not to mention most of the biota on the planet. Controlled shrinkage of economies (as opposed to the mantra of "growth") should be the first order of business to lessen the number of billions who will die of war, famine, genocide and disease, and to salvage as much as possible of the human cultures over the globe.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I read this because Lovelock is one of the grandees of environmental science. And also because he's come out swinging against the traditional green establishment, by supporting nuclear power and geo-engineering among other things.

I found Vanishing interesting and sometimes downright alarming. Basically, he posits that we might very well be on the edge of, or past, a point of no return. The planet might move to another equilibrium point where it is hotter and will be difficult to cool off. Of concerns are things like methane release, CO2 proper, acidification of the ocean. Given that, Mr. Lovelock suggests that governments should start thinking in terms of saving "their" people. Notice the possessive. He believes the UK to be better placed, being on the ocean, than most inland areas, and puts its max population limit around 100 million. He does not really explain how the extra 40 or so million residents would be chosen from the large numbers of refugee candidates. There is an underlying sense of lifeboats on the Titanic and perhaps a bit of Brit nationalism as well.

But the book also falls somewhat short at times. He is pro-nuclear. Fine, that is an opinion I share as well. However his dismissal of nuclear fears is glib, artless and barely articulated. He calls radiation natural, which it is. But higher levels of radiation do cause damage to humans, so being concerned about them is not irrational. I expected a better defense of what he considers a very very necessary change in our way of thinking.

Likewise, he dismisses many of the upcoming green technologies as being driven by business-as-usual lobbies looking to cash in government and consumer spending. True, perhaps, but there are degrees within that. First generation bio-fuels, and especially their large farm subsidies, are a classic example of lobbies over reason. Can we say the same about all other climate-driven changes to our technologies and consumption? How does he propose we discern between bogus, greed-driven, proposals and useful ones? Again, he doesn't argue this point much, except for a very interesting snipe at the economic and logistical difficulties of getting anywhere with large scale wind power. I mostly like wind power, and assumed it made sense, in terms of scalability and expenditures. He says it doesn't and I will pay more attention to its critics.

He scathingly dismisses the science-by-consensus approach of the IPCC. Yet, while the actual physics of climate change is not governed by human opinion, I expect that its interpretation and, more importantly, what to do about it, would be subject of debate and negotiation. Nevertheless, if his dismissal seems a bit abrupt, it is useful to remember that just because our countries' representatives agree to say that a 2 degree C change limits risk to acceptable levels, that may not necessarily be true in practice. It might. Or not. I happen to think that public opinion has come a long way in a short time, though it might not be enough in the end.

On Gaia theory itself, I was surprised that he scorns the green mysticism surrounding it. He sees his work as scientific in nature. But, this being my first real exposure to the author, I had a hard time figuring out if he considers the planet in a solely utilitarian light or whether he attributes some special qualities to keeping it "alive" and protected. Some parts of the book made me think he does, some don't.

This book is definitely well worth reading, but left me somewhat frustrated in that it seems he bit off too much to cover. Large passages are biographical or contemplative in nature, leaving relatively little space to what I wanted to read about - hard information on how he sees the future unfolding and what he thinks we should do.
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36 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This latest Lovelock book is actually my first to read. Many of the reviews made it seem like it was a 'flee for the hills' kind of gloom and doom book, but it was not so bleak as that and was an interesting read although a bit shallow and factually lacking and even intentionally misleading.

For the most part, it is written in a kind of jovial first person style and is informal in presentation. This was fine for me, but a friend I shared it with found it a little too much with a few too many simplistic analogies which seemed to talk down to the reader. That, taken with a lack of depth and an evident lack of objectivity, make it only a three star rating for me.

I very much agree with Lovelock that humans should think of the Earth as more than a bucket of rocks and oil to be mined and drilled - as doing so is rapidly leading to the Earth's destruction and hence our own. Lovelock's point that looking at sea level rise is a good way to see climate change impact with a lot of the short term variations smoothed out is a very good one. Those who like to deny the reality of climate change often cite one year or season or location which falls as an outlier, but the steady pace of sea level rise puts the lie to those opinions.

Lovelock also makes some good points about the difficulty about relying upon models to predict the future. His observation that all too often politics can obscure valid science is all too true. However, he is guilty himself of the same kind of suppression of facts for which he faults others.

The best example of this is his opinions on non fossil fuel energy sources. Whatever you personally may think about nuclear energy as a source of power before you start to read the book, by the end of it, you'll start to question Lovelock's reliability as an evaluator of nuclear as an option - and contrary to his goal he will likely make you a doubter by the end of it. As you read through the book you will find that Lovelock has such a pro-nuclear stance that he in fact makes it appear something must be actually wrong with nuclear energy for him have to work so hard to try to promote it. He devotes pages and pages to efforts to promote nuclear energy without any downside considered whatsoever. When it comes to other forms of non fossil based energy sources, while anecdotes and selected citations make it appear that most of the book is current and that Lovelock is writing with the backing of scientists around the globe (he repeatedly drops the names of those with whom he talks and those whom he advises), he selectively avoids stating the facts available at the time of his writing when it comes to solar photovoltaic efficiency. He makes similar misrepresentations about wind energy. He seems to be trying so hard to promote nuclear that he feels the need ignore facts clearly known to him in order to try to present all other alternatives as not viable. His argument grows so lopsided and biased that it becomes absurd.

What particularly irked me was his claim that the best solar photovoltaic efficiency ever achieved in any setting has been 30% and that he implied this efficiency record would be virtually insurmountable. Based on when he wrote the book, it seems impossible that he actually believed that. I can only conclude he intentionally made a false statement - which calls into question pretty much everything else he writes. Given that he presents the book as current and that he presents himself as an expert in the field who is in touch with state of the art science and policy, one can only conclude that he is intentionally lying to try to make solar look non viable contrary to fact. This is appalling and calls the rest of the book into question. The fact is that EVEN YEARS BEFORE THIS BOOK in 2006 well before he put pen to paper an efficiency of 40.7 percent was attained by Boeing's Spectrolab, Inc. Since then many other labs have achieved over 40% efficiency including the University of Delaware (solar cell efficiency of 42.8 percent), Freiburg's Fraunhofer Institute (39.7%), and more recent work by Spectrolab now independently validated by the U.S. Department of Energy (41.1 %). How can Lovelock who claims to be so connected and in the loop not be aware of any of this research - including research public long before his own writings!

In summary, this is a book hot off the presses by an author who proclaims himself on numerous occasions as on the bleeding edge and acting as an advisor and colleague to the top scientists and world policy makers. He presents himself as someone outside the system who can write without political influence yet be still 'in the loop' of current research and politics. However, where the facts might compromise his personal agenda, all objectively goes out the window. It's pretty shameful.

It is worth reading as 'food for thought' but don't mistake it for more than that.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is a curious and interesting blend of insights that sometimes resembles a rambling set of memories of a 90-year old man and at other times resembles the wise reflections of a scientist that no longer has any vested interests in being careful or political. This book will probably be of interest to those who are looking for insights on global warming. However, in that sense, this is a difficult book to categorize. On the one hand, Lovelock seems to espouse many of the doubts that global warming skeptics hold such as the inability of climate models to make accurate predictions, the religion-like nature of global warming belief and the fact that carbon reduction schemes are more economic opportunities than realistic ways of preventing global warming. On the other hand, Lovelock is even more pessimistic about global warming than what is usually portrayed as the official stance of global warming researchers. Not only does he believe global warming is happening, he believes it is happening more quickly and to a bigger degree than official estimates admit. Along the way, he shows a good deal of respect for some of the more well-known climatologists such as James Hansen, Stephen Schneider and Wallace Broecker.

Lovelock's perspective, of course, comes from his espousal of the idea of Gaia, or in other words, that the Earth is a living system that self-regulates. This book, once again, covers some of the history of this perspective as well as implications of it. Many of these are interesting to read and provide a different way of looking at both global warming and environmental issues in general. Lovelock's basic outlook here is that global warming is happening, that it is basically unstoppable at this point and that we need to start thinking in terms of how we will adapt to live in a world that is much warmer and has much less habitable and productive land. He envisions certain areas being like lifeboats that support a much reduced population.

This book provides a valuable and thought-provoking look at global warming which doesn't conform perfectly to either the pro-warming or skeptical side. It is a difficult outlook to accept for anyone who is staunchly defensive of either of these two "sides" of the popular global warming debate, but for anyone with an open mind on the issue, it offers some interesting perspectives that may suggest some hard realities that will need to be faced. Lovelock seems to believe that Gaia theory has been successful in real-world predictions and that a different take on climate modeling suggests something different than the official climate models. If he's right, we probably won't have to wait too much longer for confirmation. In any case, this book is a valuable addition to the somewhat saturated discourse on global warming.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2011
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James Lovelock is certainly a scientific hero of mine, and the "Gaia Hypothesis" is one of these examples of brilliant out of the box thinking which every scientist would hope to come up with. This makes it quite disappointing that this great man has written such a book.

There are definitely interesting thoughts in the book: his insistence that current climate models are too conservative, and underestimate what kind of climate catastrophe we are approaching; his emphasis on bi-stabilities in complex systems such as the climate; his point that simply driving a slightly smaller car, but continuing with our high-consumption life-style will not cut it.

In addition to these valuable parts, there are, however, also parts of the book which are a bit ..... surprising. Lovelock is harshly against wind power, as he admits, because some planned wind farms would spoil the view in the part of England he lives in. Isn't that a small price to pay for battling global warming? He also has additional arguments against wind power, but it's clear that his personal opposition stems from the danger of unsightly turbines. He repeatedly raises his opposition to wind-energy at various parts of the book. He also vehemently argues for nuclear power, partially with arguments such as that the murder of the Russian secret agent in London a few years ago, using a dangerous radio-isotope, was a plot to scare the Western public off nuclear power. Chilling to read such arguments while the Fukushima reactor accident is on-going. Lovelock also hints at being dis-satisfied with the current state of environmental activism, for reasons not always quite clear to me.

So, yes, some good thoughts and some a bit directionless ranting, not the greatest book by an otherwise great man.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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For those already familiar with Lovelock's last book, The Revenge of Gaia, there will be no substantive new revelations to be found here, though I enjoyed reading it. He tells his life's tale, so this is in part autobiographical - like his work with CFC's in the '70's and on.
The key theme is that the IPCC assessments are inadequate. For all the value their process of engagement and subsequent political acknowledgement of the severity of climate change, the many scientists involved, striving for consensus, have been too timid, playing it safe, and therefore their models are insufficiently predictive of whats actually happening. Here, Lovelock's criticism of the neo-scientific penchant for too much computer based modeling, and not enough observation and hard data, must ring true through the established order.
Figure 2.1 on observed versus predicted sea level rise should be committed to memory by everyone. Lovelock rightly suggests that sea level rise is "the best available measure of the heat absorbed by the Earth because it comes from only ... melting glaciers on land and the expansion of the ocean as it warms." By focusing on sea level rise, rather than temperature, its possible to dispel meteorological uncertainty, and concomitant denial of climatology's claims.
Those already familiar with Lovelock's work will know he's a staunch supporter of nuclear power as the only reliable means to continue powering our cities while at the same time reducing carbon emissions. On that point, he does not recant. In my opinion, however, he goes too far in attempting to squash further investments in wind, solar and other "renewable" energy sources, which in his view, has not basis in thermodynamics.
Lovelock is wise and reverential, and the book places "hope in the chance that we might evolve into a species that can regulate itself and be a beneficial part of Gaia" as we adapt to inevitable climate change. As a systems thinker, spanning multiple fields, including biology, he recognizes that life emerged more from symbiosis and inter-species cooperation than Darwinian competition. Whether humankind, in the modern era of ultra-capitalism, can transcend its competitive instincts, remains doubtful, however.
More that anything, the Vanishing Face of Gaia, is a call to the world's scientists to take a more vigorous lead in helping us all, as a potentially soon to be extinct species, to adapt to the emerging realities of a world far different from the one in which we first evolved. Going back is no longer an option.
He ends with a puzzling question, of who "will be let aboard the lifeboats." In acknowledging Malthusian predictions of population overshoot, and 7 billion as "more than the earth can carry," Lovelock remains firm in his predictions of a very large die-off, back to perhaps no more than "100 million." I strongly suggest that the answer to his question is not the rich, whose riches propelled us into this situation to begin with, and whose lifestyle will be unsuited to the world to come. My hope is that it will be the advocates of permaculture, seed bankers, agriculturalists, the makers of eco-villages, and those with a proven capacity to live most frugally. Get your resumes in order, and lets hope that the keepers of the gate are discriminative, impartial and just!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The Vanishing Face of Gaia is Lovelock's swan song for Humanity. Lovelock's developed the Gaia hypothesis, the development of which he reviews at length in the book, which views the world as a living being in which all parts, both the geophysical earth and its delicate biosphere shell are interconnected and influence and effect each other much like the different parts or organs of a living animal or plant. This inseparable and complicated interconnectedness of Gaia, (of which Man is but a part) has been poorly understood by Humanity and we are just recently beginning to understand how important this is. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a consequence of our lack of appreciation of how we are a part of Gaia, not separate from her.

Lovelock has been way ahead of the curve on Global Warming for decades. He also sees that from the distant past, from Paleoclimatology, that the Planet can make startlingly fast changes in very short periods of time due to positive feedback mechanisms that get tripped, time periods as short as hundreds of years, maybe only decades. He has tried, pretty much in vain, to warn that the consequences of our pollutions, our poorly thought through disruptions, excavations, and exploitations of Gaia, is inexorably causing Gaia to heat up, much like a virus or infection causes us to develop a temperature as a defense mechanism against that infection. It is hard to think of ourselves, the only clearly conscious, massively intelligent species on the Planet, as a virus, a plague but that is in effect how the planet, Gaia now sees us.

Will we realize our transgressions and save ourselves from ourselves?? Gaia will surely survive, but the coming catastrophic dislocations will stress Humanity, Civilization to the breaking point. Lovelock is already certain that at least in our current evolutionary phase we have failed. Our huge population with its unquenchable appetite for energy and the exploitive destruction of land and natural habits is far beyond the carrying capacity of Gaia. Lovelock is already thinking about how to best deal with the many millions of Climate refugees that will be heading North from the drought destroyed Tropical zones of the planet. He doesn't see a pretty picture for Civilization in the coming millennia. In fact he sees this last century as the last time that Humanity will see a planet rich in lush green and biodiversity and temperate climates for a very long time, think geologic time, perhaps 100,000 years. Once Gaia switches to a higher temperature, Lovelock thinks that she will stay that way for a long time because Gaia is Big and once she makes changes inertia will keep those changes in place for a long time.

The Vanishing Face of Gaia is not a call to arms. It is an explanation of how we failed, and a submission to the inevitable catastrophic changes coming to Gaia, to us, with a beginning view of how do we save what we can, and how do we decide who will survive..

My only dissatisfaction with this book is that Lovelock could have described and labeled the few graphs that he uses better.
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