As he celebrates his centennial birthday, the scientist continues to rewrite our future
James Lovelock, the scientist and writer, is 100 years old on Friday and remains a combination of environmental Cassandra and Old Testament prophet. Unlike them, though, he changes his mind about what the future holds. Foolish consistency, Emerson wrote, is the hobgoblin of little minds, and Mr Lovelock’s mind is not little. More than 10 years before the record high July temperatures, Mr Lovelock flatly told the Guardian that 80% of human life on Earth would perish by 2100 because of the climate emergency. He imagined a dystopian end of humanity where “the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable” by the end of the 21st century.
As a scientist (his first letter to Nature was published in 1945, on the subject of writing on petri dishes), Mr Lovelock’s life has been studded with insight. He invented an electron capture detector that could pick up minute traces of pollutants – such as the pesticides that spurred Rachel Carson to write the 1962 book Silent Spring. At home he built instruments that ended up on Mars, helping Nasa to establish that the red planet was lifeless.