Gaia Theory Author: Nuclear Power Integral to Earth's Survival
LONDON, United Kingdom, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - A leading light in the environmental movement, James Lovelock, declares his support for nuclear power in his autobiography due out Thursday.
The 81 year old scientist's invention was responsible more recently for the discovery of the global distribution of nitrous oxide and of chlorofluorocarbons, both significant ozone depleters and subject to global treaties limiting their emissions.
It was Lovelock's writings on Earth's unique atmosphere which led him to the Gaia theory and the forefront of scientific and environmental debate. Gaia was the Greek goddess who drew the living world forth from chaos.
It is Lovelock's term for a theory that the Earth is itself a living organism capable of regulating its climate and chemical composition for the comfort of the organisms that inhabit it.
In his latest book "Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist," Lovelock argues that nuclear power is the only "safe, economic and practical" alternative to the continued widespread use of fossil fuels.
Burning fossil fuels such as coal to generate electricity produces so-called greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming. As Lovelock puts it, this process "slowly impairs the Earth's capacity to self-regulate and sustain, as it has always done, a planet fit for life."
Nuclear power, while "potentially harmful," represents a "negligible danger" to the planet as a whole, says Lovelock.
"I hope that it is not too late for the world to emulate France and make nuclear power its principal source of energy," he writes. "There is at present no other safe, practical and economic substitute for the dangerous practice of burning carbon fuels."
But a report released in June by the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said that nuclear power cannot be part of the solution to global warming unless its dangers are dealt with to the satisfaction of the scientific community and the general public. "People are unlikely to accept new nuclear power stations unless they are part of a strategy that also delivers radical improvements in energy efficiency and an equal opportunity for deploying renewable energy sources that can compete in terms of costs and reduced environmental impacts."
All but one of the UK's 35 presently operating nuclear reactors will close within 25 years. Within five years, the government should set out how it intends to prevent this from causing an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the Royal Commission said.
"Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist" is due to be published by Oxford University Press this Thursday. It is the fourth book Lovelock has written on the Gaia theory. He works from home in the county of Devon, about 200 miles west of London, using the proceeds from his inventions and development of scientific instruments to fund his research.
"Modern science has become as professional as the advertising industry," wrote Lovelock in "The Ages of Gaia."
"Nearly all scientists are employed by some large organization, such as a governmental department, a university, or a multinational company. Only rarely are they free to express their science as a personal view. They may think that they are free, but in reality they are, nearly all of them, employees; they have traded freedom of thought for good working conditions, a steady income, tenure, and a pension," he wrote.
"Now perhaps you see why I work at home supporting myself and my family by whatever means come to hand. It is no penance, rather a delightful way of life that painters and novelists have always known. Fellow scientists join me," he invites. "You have nothing to lose but your grants."