James Lovelock


Prominent independent scientist James Lovelock has cast a damper on his 103rd birthday by dying on it. Less of a damper than what he forecasts for the rest of us, but we’ll get to that. An environmental icon, he was most famed for his Gaia hypothesis, which theorises that the Earth is a self-regulatory system (“Gaia”) that lives in a symbiotic relationship with its organisms. Despite Gaia’s immediate adoption by the greens, the theory took many years to attain credibility in mainstream scientific circles. This was emblematic of Lovelock himself, rebellious as he was prescient and often waiting decades for full acknowledgment of his ideas.

His independent streak was noticeable from a young age, disliking the stifling authority of school environments and preferring to learn through the library. He had a talent for inventing that was quickly apparent, creating gadgets even as a schoolboy. In the 50s, he used microwaves on hamsters – not because he was a proto-Freddie Starr, but for early experiments in cryogenics (the hamsters were frozen and successfully revived). He also once used the rodent-resuscitating heating device to bake a potato, accidentally creating one of the earliest microwave ovens! A sound generator he made for a BBC drama was so effective at simulating breaths and heartbeats that it inspired the Beeb to form its Radiophonic Workshop. His most important invention was the electron capture detector, a tiny device capable of detecting small traces of toxic chemicals that discovered the outsized role CFCs play in destroying the ozone layer and made him one of the first to realise the dangers of human-induced climate change.

NASA recruited Lovelock in the early 60s for a project that scoped the Moon’s surface, and he quickly moved to their interplanetary exploration branch. Piqued by the possibility of life on Venus and especially Mars, he deduced that neither had a conductive environment. The gears in his head were now turning – how does Earth have such a vastly different environment from the rest of the Solar System, and one that can house life? This spurred him to set up the independent lab where he largely remained for the rest of his career, and he developed his Gaia hypothesis with Lynn Margulis. In addition to his skirmishes with mainline academia, he also clashed with the greens over key issues (such as Lovelock’s support of nuclear energy). Yes, his independent streak was such that he was often at odds with the movement he was hero to!

The urgency of climate change meant Lovelock never truly retired. Though he celebrated the expansion of human knowledge in the past century, he also forewarned a bleak picture for both humanity and Earth amidst the accelerating crisis, and believed that Gaia would enact its revenge on humans by rendering the planet uninhabitable. The worst catastrophes are yet to come, but with us living in a reality where “record heat this summer” is a sobering news story as routine as “mass shooting in America”, the man who sounded the climate alarm decades before it was mainstream lived long enough to die with an “I told you so” in his mind.

Lovelock remained ambitious and sharp in mind well into his dotage, continuing to grant interviews past 100 where he reiterated the above. Seven teams picked the Lock, including eejit, BROWN BANANAS, and joker points for my space theme. Most notably, he was picked by Gray Panthers, who is in a tight race to recapture his 2011 glory in the Theme Team League. Could the Party Pooper points make Lovelock the Sadhana of the Theme Team League? Watch this space!

James Lovelock
26 July 1919 – 26 July 2022, aged 103
7 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀 + 🥳 = 9 POINTS, 🃏 (x1) 18 POINTS)