Is Lovelock getting senile?

Posted: April 1, 2009 in environment, society
Tags: , ,


What’s wrong with James Lovelock? The first time the man, whose great mind created the Gaia hypothesis and has done so much to promote an environmental consciousness, stunned greenies, conservationists and the sustainability-minded was when he dissed alternative energy solutions and instead suggested that nuclear energy is our saviour. And he’s been on a crusade ever since, and that campaign is getting more ugly.

In his latest Guardian article (see link below) he claims that there “is no such thing as renewable energy; it belongs as an idea with perpetual motion and other delusions, but politicians and ideologues have become skilled at using enticing words to cover essentially rotten ideas”. And speaking at a screening in London of the climate change documentary The Age of Stupid last week, he rallied against the UK’s environment minister’s comment that “the government needs to be saying, ‘It is socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area – like not wearing your seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing‘.” Lovelock said he was afraid that any move to smooth the passage of wind farms with the introduction of new planning laws would remove the right of local people to object. “The right to have public hearings over energy sources is threatened by legislation soon due. Although well-intentioned it is an erosion of our freedom and draws near to what I see as fascism,” he said. That comment comes from a man who, born in 1940, was so convinced of the evils of fascism that he decided to fight the Nazis in Her Majesty’s army – after withdrawing his registration as a conscientious objector.

Two things need to be said in this context. First, while it is laudable to actively fight a fascist regime, it seem to be a remarkable turnaround for someone who once considered conscientious objection as a means of not wanting to join the army. After all, conscientious objection is directed against participation as a combatant in war or even against taking on any role that would support a combatant organisation. Such decision is usually made on religious, moral or ethical grounds, and all are directed at not wanting to harm life.

I cannot resist drawing parallels here to Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis and his support for nuclear energy. Does Gaia not require a life-supporting and life-enhancing approach, similar to the one a conscientious objector takes when committing to not killing or maiming others, even including enemy combatants? Aren’t we looking in both cases at choices that favour life over death and harm? And isn’t Lovelock’s 180 degree turn-around in the 1940s somewhere comparable to his now passionate commitment to nuclear energy? Especially since he knows about the potentially deadly harm that will be caused to a multitude of future generations of humans and other life forms because we have not solved the problems of nuclear waste, nuclear accidents and the risk of nuclear meltdowns that can devastate life for thousands of years (just think of Chernobyl or enemy attacks on nuclear power stations)? So, there’s only one interpretation that makes sense: giving up in the 1940s the commitment to conscientious objection and wanting then to join the army seems to be driven by the same motivation as reinterpreting previous commitments to saving Gaia by now joining the nuclear industry lobby. Both are choices in favour of potentially killing and harming life over nourishing it – despite available alternative, peaceful and life-sustaining options in both cases.

The other aspect that is remarkable in Lovelock’s crusade against alternative energy is his comment about the proximity of environmental philosophy driving practical solutions and fascism (I’ve once heard the exact same thing being said about greenies by permaculture guru Bill Mollison). I don’t know what Mollison knows about fascism but as we’ve just heard, Lovelock knew a thing or two about it, so much so that he wanted to fight against it.

Fascism according to Wikipedia is an authoritarian nationalist ideology; it contains the elements of a single-party state, dictatorship, the requirement for individuals to subordinate self-interest to the collective interest of the nation or race. Fascist movements promote violence between nations, political factions, and races as part of a social Darwinist and militarist stance that views violence between these groups as a natural and positive part of evolution.

Fascist governments permanently forbid and suppress all criticism and opposition to the government and the fascist movement. Fascists oppose any ideology or political system that gives direct political power to people as individuals,  that is deemed detrimental to national identity and unity (communism, class conflict oriented labour movements, internationalism, and even laissez-faire capitalism), that protects and empowers people deemed weak and degenerate (egalitarianism), etc.. How regulations for seat belts and a speedier processing of windfarm applications can match any of these criteria is beyond me. If harmless German government regulations might have been all it took to convince Lovelock to drop his conscientious objector values in the 1940s (and it might have been hard for him to find any life supporting ones in that country at that time), it’s no surprise that he is now battling against alternative energy.

With such a distorted perspective of reality it is also not surprising that, like any good marketeer worth his dough, he fudged the figures to support his arguments. For example by citing the German magazine’s “Der Spiegel” figure of just 17% efficiency for Germany’s windfarms. He could have mentioned that recent gales over Spain in early March allowed the country to produce more than 40% of its energy needs from wind. He could also have said that onshore wind turbines in the UK are on average 30% efficient while offshore turbines produce a 42% efficiency – but it makes sense to accuse others, against the facts, of ideological blindness when you can’t see your own. What’s wrong with the guy?

Read James Lovelock’s “Ministerial hectoring on green energy is fascism in the wind” article as well as George Monbiot’s “Just when we need him, the professor has an acute attack of the Bellamoids” response.

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