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James Lovelock

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."


James Lovelock is best known as the originator of the 'Gaia hypothesis'.




According to his autobiography Homage to Gaia, James Ephraim Lovelock was born in Letchworth on July 26, 1919. He graduated as a chemist from Manchester University in 1941, worked first for the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research in London and then spent five years (1946 to 1951) at the Common CoId Research Unit at Harvard Hospital in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

In 1948 he received a Ph.D. in medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He received the D.Sc. degree in biophysics from London University in 1959.

After working in the US, he established himself as an 'independent' scientist in 1964. He is most famous for his 'Gaia hypothesis'. The winner of numerous scientific prizes, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1974. Since 1982 he has been associated with the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth, first as a council member, and from 1986 to 1990 as its president. He received the CBE in 1990. He is now an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Green College, Oxford University. [1]

Lovelock is often described as a 'green' scientist, largely because of the Gaia hypothesis - even though he is a long-standing supporter of nuclear power. He is also regularly described as 'independent' because he is not formally employed by any government, company or organisation. However, 'freelance' would be a more accurate description, as he has worked for big business and the security services since he went 'independent'.

Lovelock's past mistakes

CFCs and the ozone layer

Lovelock was one of the pioneering scientists who analysed the concentrations of the controversial chemicals chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in Antarctica. These man-made chemicals were found to be responsible for causing the hole in the ozone layer, particularly over Polar regions.

In 1973 Lovelock published the results of his work on CFCs in the scientific journal Nature. He concluded about CFCs that "the presence of these compounds constitutes no conceivable hazard". He was totally wrong, a fact that still causes him great embarrassment. In his autobiography Homage to Gaia he describes the mistake as a 'gratuitous blunder'.[6][7]

Later in the book, he also acknowledges that he appeared in a 1974 US Congressional Hearing on the future of CFCs as 'the principle witness for the industry's defence'[8]


Lovelock also admits in Homage to Gaia that one of the instruments he designed, to monitor the movement of cattle as they grazed, 'led me to participate in the removal of hedgerows - one of the most destructive changes that happened to the English Countryside after the Second World War. I regret to say I played a small part in this act of national ecocide I loved the English country scene passionately, yet I was as thoughtlessly responsible for its destruction as was a greedy shareholder of an agribusiness firm, or a landowner out to maximize the return from his broad hectares."[9]

He explains: 'What we were doing at the Grassland Research Institute was providing essential information to the civil servants of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the farmers. They then used this to plan their campaign to replace the old English countryside with an efficient agribusiness operation The scientists, the farmers, the agribusiness men, and, most important, the civil servants who drafted the legislation that gave grants to farmers to take out their hedges, all of us were ignorant of the consequences. I am ashamed and now regard myself as part of the unconscious vandalism that has all but destroyed the beauty of my countryside'[10]


Lovelock denies that Chernobyl has caused massive human health impacts. He maintains a position that there were only 45 deaths. According to Westminster Hansard:

John Barrett : In the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) asked Professor Lovelock about deaths following Chernobyl. Professor Lovelock said that be believed that 45 deaths were attributable to Chernobyl. My hon. Friend asked whether he was aware of the figures suggesting that between 25,000 and 85,000 deaths were associated with Chernobyl. John Robertson : What was his answer? John Barrett : The evidence from the World Health Organisation was that there were tens of thousands of deaths, and when Professor Lovelock was asked whether he would stick to 45 he said yes. I was in a cancer hospital in Ukraine 10 years after Chernobyl and it was full of 10-year-old children who were suffering as a direct result of Chernobyl. The doctors confirmed that. There were more than 45 people in that one ward and I do not believe Professor Lovelock's figure.

Yet see the Chernobyl information website which includes the info that; There is a consensus that at least 1800 children and adolescents in the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus have contracted cancer of the thyroid because of the reactor disaster. It is feared that the number of thyroid cancer cases among people who were children and adolescents when the accident happened will reach 8000 in the coming decades. This figure is given in the UNDP-Report 2002. The German specialist in radiation medicine and Chernobyl expert, Professor Edmund Lengfelder of the Otto Hug Strahleninstitut in Munich, which has been running a thyroid centre in Belarus since 1991, warns of up to 100 000 additional cases of thyroid cancer in all age groups.

A recent report by leading scientists and researchers commissioned by European parliamentary groups, Greenpeace International and medical foundations in Britain, Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and other countries suggests that the number of casualties may have been far higher:

"At least 500,000 people - perhaps more - have already died out of the 2 million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine". [11]

Long-term supporter for nuclear power

Lovelock hit the headlines on 24 May 2004 when he declared in The Independent: 'I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.' Lovelock's comments were widely reported in other media and consequently used by the pro-nuclear lobby to support their push for new nuclear power stations in the UK.[12]

Lovelock originally offered a draft of this article to Resurgence Magazine which said it would only run it if an anti-nuclear article could be run alongside. Lovelock refused and was told to take it elsewhere.

Contrary to the 2004 media coverage, Lovelock has long been an advocate of nuclear power - he has been on record as a supporter of nuclear power for 20 years.

Happy to store nuclear waste in his garden shed

In May 1984, Lovelock was interviewed by the freelance writer, John May, who recalls on his blog how "I went to interview him on 1 May 1984 to conduct a taped interview (which has yet to be published).

According to May: "We start talking about nuclear energy. Surprisingly he [Lovelock] is an advocate. He likens his passion to that of being a heretic. Chances of accident equivalent of airliner landing on his house. Willing to store suitcase-sized chunk of nuclear waste produced by large power station for a year, in a shed in his garden, use the heat it gives off. Happy to have his grandchildren stand by it. Happy to live near Windscale". Says of Hiroshima that "death rates of survivors from cancer lower than comparable populations. Deaths from radiation exposure need to be put in proportion compared with tobacoo etc. Far greater threat from CO2 build-up".[13]

Nuclear is normal

In his 1988 book The Ages of Gaia, Lovelock states: 'I have never regarded nuclear radiation or nuclear power as anything other than a normal and inevitable part of the environment.'

In Homage to Gaia, he states that in 1993 'the Japanese Atomic Industrial Forum invited me to present a paper at their meeting in Yokahoma. I was glad to have a chance to express in public my strong support for nuclear energy'.[14]

He also writes of the 'beneficence of nuclear power' and attacks the Green movement as a 'global over-anxious mother figure who is so concerned about small risks that she ignores the real dangers that loom. As in the biblical fable, we strain at the gnats of Chenobyl, and swallow the camel of massive pollution by our carbon-burning civilisation'.[15]

Of the October 1957 reactor fire at Windscale - the world's first serious reactor incident - he says: 'This incident exposed the people of England to what some would now consider a dangerous level of radioactive contamination. I wonder why we have heard nothing of an epidemic of thyroid and other cancers over the years that followed?'.[16]

Nuclear is safe

In an article for Readers Digest in March 2005, he writes: 'Nuclear energy is safe, clean and effective The Green idea that renewable energy can fill the gap left by retired nuclear power stations - and also meet the constantly rising demand for power - is romantic nonsense. Wind farms are monstrously inefficient and still need fossil-fuel back-up for the three days in four when the wind doesn't blow. Solar energy is a ridiculous dream for northern Europe. Energy on a large scale from waves and tidal currents is far off'.[17]

Dangers of nuclear are "imaginary"

Writing in The Daily Telegraph in 2001, Lovelock commented about the "imaginary dangers of nuclear power". He added in the article "If permitted, I would happily store high-level waste on my own land and use the heat from it to warm my home". In the same article he added, bizarrely: "I have wondered if the small volumes of nuclear waste from power production should be stored in tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by greedy developers."[18]

Links to the nuclear industry

Contrary to public perception Lovelock has long-standing ties to the nuclear industry and its supporters. Lovelock's website is maintained by Bruno Comby and hosted by the Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy. It states: 'James Lovelock is in favor of the use of clean nuclear energy' and 'he supports the Association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy.' It describes him and Comby as 'friends'.[19]

Lovelock wrote the foreword for Comby's book Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy (which was reproduced in The Independent).[20]

He is a Patron of Supporters of Nuclear Energy, whose Secretary is Sir Bernard Ingham.[21]

He was also awarded a medal by the nuclear power company British Energy in November 2006, "in recognition of his major contributions to the fields of medicine, biology, instrument science, and geophysiology".[22]

Links to big business

Lovelock started working for Shell in 1963, having regular monthly meetings with the Shell boss Lord Rothschild. He states in Homage to Gaia: 'My experiences with Shell left me firmly with the impression that they are neither stupid nor villains. On the contrary I know of no other human agency that plans as far ahead or considers the environment more closely'.[23]

Links to the security services

Homage to Gaia describes how, in 1961, Lovelock went to work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Houston, as part of a team working on the first lunar mission.

It also reveals that in 1965 he met with CIA officers in Washington to discuss new ways of detecting people hiding in dense tropical forests, using electron capture technology. Lovelock describes how he also met with an unnamed General at the Pentagon and scientists at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (now known as DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, this is a US Department for Defence research organisation). All three agencies appeared disinterested in his proposals, but 'I now know that the CIA and other American agencies did not make use of my idea until years later,' he writes.

One his return to London he discussed his experiences of the US security services with Lord Rothschild, at one of their monthly meetings. Rothschild - 'it was rumoured that he had worked with the security services during the Second World War' - gave him a phone number and consequently two scientists from the UK's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment came to see Lovelock.

Subsequently, he was invited to go and present his ideas at a meeting in Century House, which was then home to MI6 - though Lovelock does not make this clear. The spooks' 'real interest was in the KGB and its agents in London and other cities', he states. A week later, Lovelock demonstrated his invention in the New Forest to a man called 'Colin Place'.[24]

Later, he was invited to Leconsfield House in Curzon Street, which then housed MI5 (again, Lovelock glosses over this fact) and was offered a lab at Holton Heath, a defence research establishment in Dorset. He writes that his work had a "high classification'. He also notes: 'The potential for chemical tracing was considerable and soon the security services decided to build a proper new laboratory at Holton Heath specifically for this need'. He concludes: 'During my years with the Security Services I developed an instinct for discretion. This was invaluable in my work with multinational companies and other government agencies, where I discovered much more about their workings than I needed to know.[25] [26]

Links to anti-Greens

Lovelock was also one of the original signatories of the 'Declaration in Support of Protecting Nature With High-yield Farming and Forestry.' Other signatories are Patrick Moore, the ex-Greenpeace founder and now Greenpeace's bete noir, who runs an anti-environmantal PR company called Greenspirit Strategies, Dennis Avery of the Centre for Global Food Issues which is part of to the right-wing Hudson Institute and Eugene Lapointe one of the leaders of the international 'Wise Use Movement' and World Conservation Trust Foundation /IWMC World Conservation Trust and Norman Boulag, a rabidly pro-GM scientist.[27]

Dennis Avery is one of the main people behind many of the attacks on organic food and author of the inspirationally-titled Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic: The Environmental Triumph of High-Yield Farming. Avery sees himself as a missionary, promoting the high-tech farming industries: pesticides, irradiation, factory farming, and the newcomer: biotechnology.[28][29]

Avery is behind misleading claims that organic food is dangerous and is the originator of the 'E. Coli myth' - that people eating organic foods are at a significantly higher risk of food poisoning. He calls organic food a 'gigantic marketing lie'.[29]

Eugene Lapointe runs the organisation the International Wildlife Management Consortium, a coalition of international hunting, shooting, whaling, right-wing and wise use organisations.[30]

Other signatories include Bruce Ames, the controversial cancer scientist on the board of climate-sceptic Fred Singer's SEPP and a Director of the George C Marshall Institute and academic advisor to the Reason Foundation, and Klaus Amman, a vehemently pro-GM scientist.[31]

Critical Books Reviews

Critical Articles

  • John Clark, 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Metaphor: James Lovelock and the Revenge of Gaia' in Capitalism Nature Socialism, vol. 19 #2 (June 2008):51-68.
  • Catherine Simpson, "Australian eco-horror and Gaia ’ s revenge : animals , eco-nationalism and the ‘ new nature", Intellect (2010).

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Gaia Who, organizational web page, accessed April 24, 2012.
  2. Roster of the Fellows for 2008,, accessed October 4, 2008.
  3. Centre for Development and the Environment Chairholders, organizational web page, accessed April 25, 2012.
  4. World Pantheist Movement Home, organizational web page, accessed February 10, 2012.
  5. Goi Peace Award, Goi Peace Foundation, accessed December 16, 2011.
  6. J. Gribbin, The Hole in the Sky - Man's Threat to the Ozone Layer, Corgi, 1988, p40-41.
  7. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 216.
  8. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 220.
  9. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 101.
  10. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, pages 103-104.
  11. John Vidal, UN accused of ignoring 500,000 Chernobyl deaths, The Guardian, March 25, 2006.
  12. James Lovelock, "Nuclear power is the only green solution", The Independent, May 24, 2004.
  13. John May James Lovelock: Man of the Moment, The Generalist, January 31, 2006.
  14. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, pages p396-7.
  15. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 397.
  16. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 143.
  17. James Lovelock, "Our Nuclear Lifeline", Readers Digest, March 2005.
  18. James Lovelock, "We need nuclear power, says the man who inspired the Greens", Daily Telegraph, August 15, 2001.
  19. James Lovelock's website, undated, accessed February 2006.
  20. James Lovelock, "Time for a rethink?", The Independent, May 27, 2004.
  21. SONE website, undated, accessed February 2006.
  22. 'The 5th John Collier Memorial Lecture - James Lovelock', British Energy website, undated, accessed January 2007.
  23. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, p162-3.
  24. BBC News website: 'MI6 attack 'was inevitable'', September 21, 2000.
  25. Peter Wright, Spycatcher, Heinemann, 1987, p2.
  26. James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia, Oxford University Press, 2000, pages p170-9.
  27. 'Declaration in Support of Protecting Nature With High-yield Farming and Forestry', undated, accessed February 2006.
  28. Hudson Institute profile of Dennis Avery, undated, accessed February 2006.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Karen Charman, "Saving the Planet With Pestilent Statistics", PR Watch, Volume 6, No. 4, undated, accessed February 2006.
  30. IWMC website, undated, accessed February 2006.
  31. The Science & Environmental Policy Project website, undated, accessed February 2006.

External resources

External articles

Articles By Lovelock

Interviews with Lovelock

Articles About Lovelock