As the planet lurches towards a climate emergency and its life support systems falter, the need for visionary thinkers with fresh insights and big ideas has never been more pressing. No wonder, then, that the world mourned the death earlier this year of James (‘Jim’) Lovelock, whose Gaia theory provided a new framework to think about nature, one that changed the way we regard our relationship with Earth.
Lovelock contributed to many fields, such as environmental science, cryobiology and exobiology, from thawing hamsters to building exquisitely sensitive detectors to find life on Mars or to sniff out ozone-destroying chemicals. But when he died on 26 July, the day of his 103rd birthday, the world lost what the Earth scientist Timothy Lenton in Science magazine called ‘a genius and iconoclast of immense intellectual courage’. Lovelock was a true original who was detached from the pressure to conform, one who had found a way to do research outside an institution, and who showed a disregard for disciplinary boundaries.
Driven by his scepticism about conventional wisdom, enabled by his skill as an inventor, and guided by visceral scientific insights, Lovelock made much of his independence. When asked about ‘thinking outside the box’ at a meeting in the University of Exeter to celebrate his centenary, he replied: ‘What box?’ [Continue reading…]