The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (Penguin), 177 pages, $35 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Given that James Lovelock is now 86, The Revenge Of Gaia is probably his last testament, and that fact motivates him to speak out with Biblical force against the dual devils of fossil-fuel burning and the industrial ravaging of the last wild lands on earth.
Lovelock's still-debated Gaia theory, based on his faith in the robust nature of the earth, posits that humanity has the ability to change its behaviour in time to avert a planetary disaster.
When UK astronomer Martin Rees wrote his pessimistic Our Final Century? in 2004, Lovelock felt it was interesting but deemed it "nothing to lose sleep over."
But Lovelock's nights have become less restful because of recent evidence of the severity and speed of climate change, including the accelerated melting of the polar ice caps.
A respected adviser to the British government, he worries that civil servants are too afraid to face the facts and thus cannot warn us, for example, that part of Greenland's glacial ice sheet might suddenly sink into the sea, raise sea levels by a metre and make a million people homeless.
The Revenge Of Gaia is full of practical suggestions for how to reduce the consequences of climate change. Lovelock recommends that a third of Great Britain be transformed into a protected wildlife sanctuary, and that Britain employ good land use planning for walkable cities. He gives a good overview of the potential for renewable technologies, including the prospects for lowering the cost of fuel-cell and solar energy.
But, like most scientists engaged in climate change debates, Lovelock advocates nuclear power, ignoring the mess made by uranium mining and underestimating the potential of fully developed technologies such as co-generation to radically reduce power demand.
Nevertheless, The Revenge Of Gaia is one of the most significant new eco books on the stands.