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ecologist dies at 103 –


James Lovelock was an English ecologist known for his Gaia theory of the Earth as a living, self-regulating system.

Gaia theory and CFCs

After beginning his scientific career at London’s National Institute for Medical Research, Lovelock began working with NASA. As part of that work, he invented the electron capture detector, a device that detects atoms and molecules in a gas. The detector is used to measure toxic substances in the atmosphere, and it helped Lovelock determine that smog is caused by human pollution. Also using the electron capture detector, Lovelock was the first to identify chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere, which were later linked to the depletion of the ozone layer. Lovelock’s Gaia theory, developed in the 1960s, posits that the Earth is a “living organism” on which all components work together to maintain the conditions necessary for life. It has remained a controversial theory, both widely discussed and dismissed by critics. In later years, Lovelock was an advocate for nuclear power as a means to combat climate change.

Notable quote

“The Gaia theory is just engineering written very large indeed. I mean you have got this ideal rotating ball in space, illuminated by a nice standard star. Up until now, the Earth system has always kept things cool on the Earth, fit for life, that is the essence of Gaia. It’s an engineering job and it has been well done. But I would say the biosphere and I are both in the last 1% or our lives.” —from a 2020 interview for the Guardian

Tributes to James Lovelock

Full obituary: The New York Times

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