Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Revenge of Gaia - A student's book review

I really need to get into the habitat of reading a book and then writing the book review, not waiting a few months before I do so - however, seeing as I read this book in the summer holidays, it will be a good test of how much I can remember!

This book is another one of James Lovelock's and you really need to have read the first one, if you are to make any sense of this book. The first book 'Gaia' explains the idea of the Gaia theory and how it was created. So, just for a quick reminder, the Gaia theory, in its simplest form, suggests that the physical and chemical conditions of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere, and of the oceans has been and is actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself; whilst also encompassing the belief that life does not regulate or make the Earth comfortable for itself. Instead, regulation, at a state fit for life, is a property of the whole evolving system of life, air, ocean, and rocks and with a mathematical basis in the model Daisyworld which generates testable predictions. Basically, the Earth is kind of alive as one big organism and self-regulates - I will warn you again, read these books with quite an open mind and when you have the time to really think about and process the ideas the author is trying to present; it was a totally new, but intriguing, idea for me and I think I am still trying to totally get me head around it! Perhaps its no suprise that when this theory was first published it was viewed with great suspiscion and skepitism, but it seems to be becoming  more widely accepted within the scientific community.

This time, instead of presenting and trying to prove the Gaia hypothesis, Lovelock applies it to global climate change, although he seems to prefer the use of global heating, which he thinks to some extent is unavoidable as a consequence of current levels of anthropogenic forcing and will abruptly occur. Throughout the book it is incredibly clear that he feels anthropogenic forcing is solely responsible for current and impending climatic alterations and that our actions have and prevail to destabilise the Earth and, as the title implies, in revenege Earth is readjusting and consequently generating less habitable conditions for us. Lovelock is definetly not afraid of presenting his ideas and views (for example, he clearly states his view that global climate change is irreversible, something which was not necessarily recieved so well by those trying to persuade people to lead more 'green' lifestyles!) in an attempt to alter the way we think and whilst I find it hard to accept everything he says, it is, again, an incredibly thought provoking book.

There are a couple ideas/views that Lovelock mentioned which have really stuck in my mind. As also touched upon in his first book, within The Revenge of Gaia he clearly emphasises his support for nuclear power, viewing it as an efficient and less environmentally damaging energy resource than those currently exploited (i.e oil and coal!). Nuclear power is always going to be a controversial issue, perhaps more so after events in Japan earlier this year, and so I wonder if Lovelock's view of nuclear power has changed in anyway since he wrote this book. It is a resource that could be exploited, but like all sources of energy it has its disadvantages and risks which cannot be ignored and also, it cannot solve the issue of removing the global dependency on oil. Many of his ideas almost seem to go against the more conventional way of thinking, i.e we should use appropriate technology (normally very low-tech) to enable sustainable development so that society can not only reduce anthropogenic forcing and sustain existance but also adapt to coming changes. Lovelock seems to feel that we need a more high-tech approach but not in an attempt to solve the coming 'climate crisis', as he feels we have already lost the oppurtunity to implement sustainable development, instead to enable mankind to perform a sustainable retreat from our current level of control and detrimental influence we have over Earth. This high-tech approach is the only way he feels that we can feed the world's population which is probably true. I fail to see how organic farming can remain an efficient and viable option in the future and with issues with energy supplies and future climatic alterations, traditional agricultural practices are going to become increasingly challenging to entertain. Feeding the global population is a common worry shared by many, including Lovelock, who suggested that Britain could be one of a very few countries (so long as we implemented tight rules on immigration) who could revert back to being self-sufficient and sustain its population in the future without import reliance. However, Lovelock's suggestion of who we could achieve this is interesting to say the least.............. he suggested that we took Scotland, England and Wales and reserved one for living space, one for food and left the remainder of the Britain as a Gaia friendly region. If this was every suggested in parliament I would be intrigued to see how they would decided which areas to have as which of these three key regions - could be an interested discussion! Would it work? Well, I cannot see any such decision being recieved well enough for such a scheme to work unless it was absolutely necessary so lets just hope it doesn't come to this! So what does he feel is the root cause of this environmental problem? Well, you can probably guess and most of you will agree - population growth. He thinks its quite simple, there are too many of us who live unsustainable lifestyles. If there was only about 1 billion of us on the planet then we could probably live whatever way we wanted to and have no lasting impact but there are 7 billion of us and so we simply cannot. Again, his answer is a 'sustainable retreat' from the detrimental control and influence we excercise over Gaia and if we fail to do so he warns we will experience "a global decline into a chaotic world ruled by brutal warlords on a devastated Earth" and practically on this note the book ends; unfortunately the idea of a 'chaotic world ruled by brutal warlords on a devasted Earth' could become a reality in the future as, currently we are prepared to fight over unessential resources i.e oil, so what will we be prepared to dp when we are fighting over items needed for survival, principally water and food? If you ask me, that is a slightly worrying thought and I don't feel very optimistic about the answer.......

Like my conclusion for the review of Gaia, its really hard to know what to say about this book but if you have the time, I would try and read it. For many of you, as with me, it will be a totally new way of thinking and perspective on life, consequently making it a very thought provoking book. I do wonder how Lovelock comes up with such ideas. I cannot deny that it does intrigue me and is a very different way of thinking, consequently I feel there is only so much my brain can cope with reading about it at one time. I quite like the way he links feedbacks together to try and prove his point but I think perhaps some of it has been slightly over thought and, perhaps because I am personally better at dealing with the tangible, I kind of feel like there is an element of reluctancy to test his theory - although I am not 100% sure how you could test this hypothesis! You cannot deny that many things are interlinked but the idea that Earth is sort of like an omniscient, omnipotent superorganism that self-regulates in an almost indentical way to the bodies process of homeostatis, and then in an act of revenge against anthropogenic activity, readjusts to make life difficult for humanity, is a leap am I struggling to make and accept in my mind.

Anyway, if you get around to reading it, let me know what you think! The ideas are hard to process and I found the easiest way to do so was to discuss it......

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