James Lovelock, the environmental scientist whose influential Gaia theory sees Earth as a living organism gravely threatened by human activity, died on his 103rd birthday.
Lovelock’s family said Wednesday that he died the previous evening “at home surrounded by his family” from complications related to a fall. The family said that until six months ago Lovelock ‘was still able to walk along the coast near his home in Dorset and take part in interviews, but his health deteriorated after a bad fall earlier This year”.
Born in 1919, Lovelock studied chemistry, medicine and biophysics in the UK and USA. He worked at the Medical Research Council in Britain and in the 1960s on NASA’s lunar and Mars programs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. But he has spent much of his career as an independent scientist outside of major academic institutions.
Lovelock’s contribution to environmental science included the development of a device to measure ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere and pollutants in air, soil, and water.
WATCH | CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos interviews James Lovelock in 2009:
The Gaia hypothesis, first proposed in the 1970s, viewed the Earth itself as a complex, self-regulating system that created and maintained the conditions for life on the planet. Lovelock said human activity had put the system dangerously out of whack.
“The biosphere and I are both in the last percent of our lives,” he told The Guardian newspaper in 2020.
Initially dismissed by many scientists, the Gaia theory has become influential as concern over humanity’s effect on the planet has grown, not least because of its power as a metaphor. Gaia is the Greek goddess of the Earth.
Lovelock is survived by his wife Sally and his children Christine, Jane, Andrew and John.
“Around the world, he was best known as a scientific pioneer, climate prophet and originator of the Gaia theory,” they said in a statement. “To us he was a loving husband and wonderful father with a boundless sense of curiosity, a playful sense of humor and a passion for nature.”
The family said there would be a private funeral, followed by a public memorial service at a later date.