Robert Colvile in The Telegraph:
As the inventor of Gaia theory, James Lovelock is used to thinking big. Ever since he came up with the idea that the planet and its inhabitants form one vast, self-regulating system – initially scoffed at, but now taken seriously across a variety of disciplines – his focus has been wider than that of his more hidebound colleagues. In A Rough Ride to the Future, Lovelock outlines a new theory. He argues that since 1712, the year in which the Newcomen steam engine was created, we have moved into a new age, the Anthropocene, in which humanity’s ability to liberate energy and information from the Earth has rapidly outpaced both Darwinian evolution and the planet’s ability to cope.
What is refreshing about Lovelock’s approach to these issues is that it is blessedly free of dogma. He does not blame humanity for doing what comes naturally: exploiting the wonders available to it. And he is happy to outline the gaps in our understanding of climate science, not least the role of living beings in helping to regulate the system. This clarity extends to his conclusions. Ultimately, he suggests, climate change is down to ignorance, not negligence – but while we do not yet know its exact contours, the process is both extremely serious and probably unfixable. Unlike the situation with CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, a generation ago, there are too many actors – countries, companies and individual humans – that would need to be cudgelled into self-denial if the status quo were to be retained. Where he differs from the consensus, however, is in suggesting that this might not be such a bad thing. What we are seeing around us, Lovelock argues, may be the large-scale destruction of the planet’s ecosystem by rapacious humanity. But it may also be “no more than the constructive chaos that always attends the installation of a new infrastructure”. Humanity is already concentrating itself in bigger and bigger cities, so rather than trying to “save the Earth”, or restore some artificial version of a normal climate, why not live comfortable lives in clustered, air-conditioned mega-cities? This serves ants and termites perfectly well, he argues – as well as the inhabitants of Singapore.