James Lovelock: who was Gaia hypothesis creator?

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The environmental scientist and inventor, born in 1919, died on his 103rd birthday

Leading environmental scientist and creator of the Gaia hypothesis James Lovelock has died on his 103rd birthday, a statement from his family confirms.

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In a statement, they said Lovelock died “at home in Dorset surrounded by his family” following complications from a fall he suffered earlier in the year.

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That’s all you need to know about Lovelock.

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Who Was James Lovelock?

Lovelock was an English scientist, environmentalist, and inventor best known for creating the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s.

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He was born in Letchworth on 26 July 1919 and after he and his family moved to London Lovelock attended the Strand School in Tulse Hill.

Raised as a Quaker, Lovelock spoke up Noema Magazine in 2020 that the Quaker Sunday school he attended from the age of six was “unlike any other Sunday school I had encountered.”

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He said, “Religion played only a small part, and it seemed that cosmogony was the subject taught at the school.”

Cosmogony refers to the scientific study of the origins of the universe.

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British scientist James Lovelock poses in Paris March 17, 2009 (Photo by JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP via Getty Images)

In conversation with the Guardian In 2020, when asked if he was religious, Lovelock said: “No, I was raised a Quaker. I was indoctrinated with the idea that God is a still, small voice within rather than a mysterious old gentleman far out in the universe.

“Intuition comes from that inner voice and is a great gift for inventors.”

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Lovelock couldn’t initially afford to go to university, but he said he saw it as a blessing in disguise as it meant he wasn’t immediately caught in the science bubble.

He later attended the University of Manchester at the age of 21 and graduated as a chemist in 1941. Lovelock later earned a PhD in Medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a D.Sc in Biophysics from London University.

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After leaving Manchester University, Lovelock took a job with the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, working on ways to protect soldiers from burns. His student status allowed him to temporarily withdraw from military service during World War II, but he also enlisted as a conscientious objector.

Lovelock later dropped his conscientious objection to the atrocities committed by the Nazis. However, when he tried to enlist in the armed forces, he was told that his medical research was too important to serve.

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James Lovelock, 94, with one of his early inventions, a home-built gas chromatography device used to measure gas and molecules in the atmosphere (Photo: PA/Nicholas.T.Ansell)

In 1954, Lovelock won the Rockefeller Traveling Fellowship in Medicine and chose to spend it at Harvard University Medical School in Boston. He later resigned from his position at the National Institute in London to become a professor of chemistry at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. While in Texas, Lovelock worked on lunar and planetary research with colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

From 1964 Lovelock worked as an independent scientist and was the author of more than 200 scientific papers.

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He became a leading voice on climate change and an inventor whose creations included a highly sensitive electron capture detector to detect pollutants including ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).

Throughout his career, Lovelock has received a number of prestigious awards, including the 1975 Tswett Medal, the 1980 American Chemical Society Award in Chromatography, the 1988 Norbert Gerbier-MUMM Award from the World Meteorological Organization, the Dr. AH Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences in 1990, the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovery Lifetime Award in 2001, and the Wollaston Medal in 2006.

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What is the Gaia Hypothesis?

The Gaia theory was formulated by Lovelock and co-developed by microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s.

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The theory, Lovelock said, states that the Earth is “a self-regulating system capable of maintaining climate and chemical composition comfortable for organisms.”

The hypothesis contradicted the view that Earth was just a boulder and instead presented an entirely different perspective, framing the planet as a complex, interactive system that can be viewed as a single organism.

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The theory held that human activities had interfered dangerously with the system, with Lovelock warning of the effects of climate change.

Activists march down Oxford Street during a demonstration by protest group Extinction Rebellion in London on April 9, 2022 (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2006, Lovelock wrote: “The planet we live on only has to shrug its shoulders to see a fraction of a million die.

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“But that’s nothing compared to what could happen soon; We are abusing the earth so much now that it may rise and return to the hot state it was 55 million years ago, and when it does most of us and our descendants will die.”

In a 2011 lecture, Lovelock said he had no plans for a comfortable retirement as it was imperative that he warn humanity of the impending climate crisis.

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James Lovelock talks to Rosie Boycott at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye (Photo: PA/Ben Birchall)

He said: “My main reason for not relaxing into a contented retirement is that, like most of you, I am deeply concerned about the likelihood of massively damaging climate change and the need to do something about it now.”

In his 2020 interview with the GuardianLovelock said: “Until now the Earth system has always kept things cool on Earth, fit for life, that is the essence of Gaia.

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“It’s an engineering job and it was done well. But I would say the biosphere and I are both in the last 1% of our lives.”

Was he married – did he have children?

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Lovelock was married twice in his life – he married his first wife, Helen Hyslop, in 1942.

He and Hyslop had four children together and they were married until her death in 1989, when she died of multiple sclerosis.

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Lovelock later married his second wife, Sandy Orchard, when he was 69 years old.

In conversation with the Guardian In 2005 Lovelock said: “It’s traditional to think that at 69 you’re ‘beyond.’ But that’s when I met my second wife, Sandy.

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“I never believed that you could fall in love at this age group until it happened.”

He met Orchard, an American, when she approached him to speak at a conference.

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Speaking at Blenheim Palace on his 100th birthday, Lovelock said that it was there that he and Sandy “fell in love”.

He said: “Sandy and I fell in love with Blenheim. I had been to a meeting she organized.

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“Something clicked, I don’t know what. After dinner I felt soft and went to pee. Right in front of me was a group of four women talking quite vigorously. Sandy was among them.

“Without a word from either of us, we just fell into each other’s arms.

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“Never said a word. And went down the steps. People talk way too much.

“With a thing like this, falling in love, you should be as quiet as possible.”

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When did James Lovelock die?

Lovelock died on Tuesday July 26th, the day of his 103rd birthday.

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In a statement, his wife and children said he died at home in Dorset surrounded by family on Tuesday.

They said: “Our beloved James Lovelock died yesterday on his 103rd birthday at his home surrounded by his family.

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“He was best known to the world as a scientific pioneer, climate prophet and inventor of the Gaia theory.

James Lovelock attends the Oldie of the Year Awards at Simpson’s in the Strand on February 7, 2017 in London, UK. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

“To us he was a loving husband and wonderful father with a boundless curiosity, a mischievous sense of humor and a passion for the outdoors.

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“Up until six months ago he was still able to walk and attend interviews on the seafront near his home in Dorset, but his health has deteriorated after a serious fall earlier this year.

“He died on [9.55pm] of complications related to the fall.

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“The funeral will be private. A public memorial service will be held later. The family is asking for privacy at this time.”

Lovelock is survived by his wife Sandra, daughters Christine and Jane, sons Andrew and John, and grandchildren.

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Honors for James Lovelock

In response to news of Lovelock’s death, Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Science Museum Group, said: “Arguably the most important independent scientist of the last century, Jim Lovelock was decades ahead of his time in thinking about the earth and climate and his unique approach was an inspiration to many.

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“Originality of thought, skepticism about the status quo, and above all a focus on invention are central to his remarkable contribution to science.”

Roger Highfield, the museum’s director of science, said: “Jim was a nonconformist who had a unique point of view that came from being, as he put it, half scientist and half inventor.

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“Infinite ideas gushed out of this synergy between making and thinking.

“Although he is most associated with Gaia, he has done an extraordinary range of research, from freezing hamsters to discovering life on Mars, has popularized his ideas in many books and has been more than happy to read a few To ruffle feathers, whether by articulating his dislike of consensus views, formal education and committees, or by expressing his enthusiastic support for nuclear power.”

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Professor Richard Betts, head of climate impact research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said Lovelock had been a source of inspiration throughout his career and was devastated by his death.

“Jim’s influence is widespread, profound and long-lasting,” said Prof. Betts.

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“He will be remembered for his warm, fun-loving personality, genuinely innovative thinking, clear communication, willingness to take bold risks in developing his ideas, and ability to bring people together and learn from them.

“My deepest sympathy goes out to Sandy and the rest of Jim’s family. Rest in Gaia Jim, you are missed.”

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