1ro de octubre del 2000
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Father of 'Gaia' Theory Launches Autobiography


Editor's Desk/Tierramérica

Fellow scientists, join me, you have nothing to lose but your scholarships, quipped James Lovelock, creator of the ''Gaia'' theory and world-renowned environmental guru. He was referring to his own working conditions, far from the giant corporations, in his house west of London in the Devon countryside. He says it is a wonderful way to live, a life that painters and novelists have always known, but he laments that most modern scientists have lost their independence in exchange for a salary from a multinational corporation, a university or a government agency. At 81, Lovelock still has no qualms about expressing his ideas directly, captivating the public with his singular style - attention-getting, direct and simple - as he speaks out about science and its challenges.

Beginning in the 1970s, any self-respecting environmentalist - and not a few ''New Age philosophers'' - debated the theory of ''Gaia'' that Lovelock had outlined, which can be very easily summarized: the earth is a living organism, capable of self-regulation - controlling its climate and its chemical composition - in order to maintain life and to continue flourishing.

''Gaia'' is the name of a Greek goddess that Nobel Prize winner William Golding (author of 'Lord of the Flies') suggested to Lovelock. And, without a doubt, it was a good choice for the publishing market. Lovelock suddenly became a best-selling author in the genre known as ''popular science,'' giving life to three books inspired in Gaia.

And he has recently breathed life into a fourth: during the last week of September the controversial author presented in London his autobiography, titled ''Homage to Gaia.''

In the book he tells the story of how he first visualized the Gaia concept and offers his perspective on science's future role for humanity. He also recounts how for three decades he fought to defend his theory.

At the peak of his popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, Lovelock intellectually seduced readers by the millions, but at the same time was repudiated by scientists from various fields who considered his theory weak. And this was despite that fact that Lovelock, prior to Gaia, had invented an electron-detecting instrument that contributed a great deal to knowledge about the impact of pesticides and of ozone-destroying gases. With his invention in hand, in the late 1950s Lovelock was able to reveal the presence of pesticide residues in all living organisms (which inspired the groundbreaking book ''Silent Spring'' by Rachel Carson). Ten years later, the same instrument was used to detect the presence of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which contribute to the destruction of the earth's ozone layer.

Lovelock never seemed to mind being an outsider in academic circles. Today, he has won greater respect and is currently a visiting professor at Oxford University - and continues to be a full-time ''Gaia militant.'' Recently, he gave a conference on his theory in Spain, where he once again defended his pioneering hypothesis. He pointed out that when one launches a groundbreaking theory - such as quantum mechanics or evolution - it generally takes 40 years before science will take it seriously. Gaia is only 30 years old.

Take a look at Lovelock's latest book at:
www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-286213-8

 

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