ALLEN LANE £16.99 (177pp) £15.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

The Revenge of Gaia, by James Lovelock

Payback from the green goddess

James Lovelock will go down in history as the scientist who changed our view of the Earth from a barren rock covered with a thin coating of life to a self-organising system that in many ways resembles a single organism. Following a conversation with the novelist William Golding, Lovelock named this self-regulating system after the Greek earth goddess Gaia. Viewed with suspicion by Darwinian fundamentalists, Gaia theory is now widely accepted and used in scientific disciplines. Its implication is that humanity is part of a much larger system that it cannot control, still less master. The Earth's self-regulating processes impose limits on human ambitions, and if humanity acts to destabilise the system, the Earth will readjust in ways that show no regard for human welfare.

In The Revenge of Gaia - the most important book ever to be published on the environmental crisis - Lovelock applies Gaia theory to climate change. Using the latest scientific findings, he concludes that an abrupt and radical climatic shift is unavoidable. Global heating - as he prefers to describe it - is set to take its course: "We are the cause of it, and nothing so severe has happened since the start of the Eocene, 55 million years ago, when the change was larger than that between the ice age and the 19th century and lasted for 200,000 years".

The shift already visible in the melting Antarctic means that rising sea levels will threaten billions. Within the present century, many coastal cities could be inundated and much of the world's arable land flooded. Destabilised by human activity, the Earth is readjusting and becoming less habitable by humans. Gaia is exacting her revenge on human hubris. There will be some who say that Lovelock's talk of Gaia exemplifies the sympathetic fallacy of reading human feelings into the natural world, but his point is that if we try to override the Earth's self-stabilising mechanisms we court disaster. Gaia's revenge is a metaphor for cause and effect operating on a planetary scale.

Lovelock's claim that climate change is irreversible has horrified many Greens, who see it as a counsel of despair. Here the movement is in denial. If the evidence supports Lovelock's claim - and there is a growing scientific consensus that it does - many policies advocated by the Green movement are pointless, or positively harmful. Green hostility to nuclear power is an example.

Lovelock's pro-nuclear stance is not new; it was clear in his first book, Gaia (1979). Here, Lovelock restates his view that it is folly to reject a source of energy that is highly efficient and less harmful to the environment than existing alternatives. He will not persuade those whose opposition is irrational, but anyone with a reasonably open mind will conclude that the nuclear option can't simply be dismissed. I have supported Lovelock's environmental defence of nuclear power since 1992, when I endorsed it in my book Beyond the New Right.

What is new is Lovelock's argument that high technology can be used to reduce humanity's impact on the planet. Conventional Greens promote the idea of sustainable development, and think the environmental crisis can be overcome by low-tech solutions such as organic farming and renewable energy. In contrast, Lovelock believes sustainable development is no longer possible. Rightly, he maintains we need a hi-tech strategy that enables humanity to stage a sustainable retreat from its current over-extended position in the biosphere.

There is no technical fix for the human condition; but Greens are deluding themselves if they think the environment can be saved by changes in the economic system. Using hi-tech methods, we might just be able to feed the world's growing population during the period of upheaval that is now inevitable. There is no prospect of this with traditional farming, and we would be better off if we abandoned agriculture altogether and produced foods synthetically. The Green utopia of a vast human population subsisting on a mix of wind farms and organic food would mean gutting the planet of much of its remaining biodiversity.

Fortunately, it is not remotely possible. As Lovelock puts it, "An ultra-high-tech low-energy civilisation may well be possible, but it would be wholly different from the present-day vision of a low-energy world of sustainable development and renewable energy where the multitude tries to survive on food from organic small-holders farming a protesting Earth."

Lovelock writes that the root of the environmental problem is a lack of constraint on human numbers, and I am sure he is right. With a population of a billion or fewer, the planet would be healthy whatever humans did to it. As it is, unchecked human expansion has disrupted the mechanisms that keep it stable. The question is not how humanity can retain its planetary dominance, which was always an illusion. It is whether humanity can use science and technology to mount a sustainable retreat. If not, Lovelock warns, we face "a global decline into a chaotic world ruled by brutal warlords on a devastated Earth".

John Gray is professor of European thought at the LSE and the author of 'Straw Dogs' (Granta)

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain