RIP James Lovelock, The Climate Activist Who Admitted He was Wrong

Essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Vuk; James Lovelock‘s claim to fame was his creation of the famous Gaia Hypothesis. But Greens seem to forget, on several occasions Lovelock appeared to walk back his climate alarmism.

James Lovelock, creator of Gaia hypothesis, dies on 103rd birthday

The scientist was best known for his theory that the Earth is a self-regulating community of organisms

Helena Horton
Wed 27 Jul 2022 23.40 AEST

James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, has died on his 103rd birthday. The climate scientist died at home on Tuesday surrounded by loved ones, his family said.

Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment editor, who knew Lovelock and has been working on a biography about him, said: “The news is extremely sad, but what a life and what a legacy. Until very recently he was in good health and had a remarkable memory for events that happened almost a century ago. He was smart, funny and happy to share intimate details from his extraordinary life.

“It was thrilling to talk to one of the greatest minds Britain has ever produced. Here was a man who helped to shape many of the most important scientific events of the 20th century – Nasa’s search for life on Mars, growing awareness of the climate risks posed by fossil fuels, the debate over ozone-depleting chemicals in the stratosphere and the dangers of industrial pollution – as well as his work for the British secret services.”

Lovelock spent his life advocating for climate measures, starting decades before many others started to take notice of the crisis. By the time he died he did not believe there was hope of avoiding some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Lovelock was passionate about, and committed to, his work as he felt it imperative to warn humanity of the incoming climate catastrophe. He said in a lecture in 2011 that he had no plans for a comfortable retirement because of this.

“My main reason for not relaxing into contented retirement is that like most of you I am deeply concerned about the probability of massively harmful climate change and the need to do something about it now,” Lovelock said.

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In 2012 Lovelock appeared to have recanted some of his climate alarmism. But in 2014, Lovelock gave an interview to The Guardian which seemed pretty alarmist.

Then in 2016 Lovelock appears to have changed his mind again, and gave the following Guardian interview.

What has changed dramatically, however, is his position on climate change. He now says: “Anyone who tries to predict more than five to 10 years is a bit of an idiot, because so many things can change unexpectedly.” But isn’t that exactly what he did last time we met? “I know,” he grins teasingly. “But I’ve grown up a bit since then.”

Lovelock now believes that “CO2 is going up, but nowhere near as fast as they thought it would. The computer models just weren’t reliable. In fact,” he goes on breezily, “I’m not sure the whole thing isn’t crazy, this climate change. You’ve only got to look at Singapore. It’s two-and-a-half times higher than the worst-case scenario for climate change, and it’s one of the most desirable cities in the world to live in.”

But there is a third explanation for why he has shifted his position again, and nowadays feels “laid back about climate change”. All things being equal – “and it’s only got to take one sizable volcano to erupt and all the models, everything else, is right off the board”

Lovelock maintains that, unlike most environmentalists, he is a rigorous empiricist, but it is manifestly clear that he enjoys maddening the green movement. “Well, it’s a religion, really, you see. It’s totally unscientific.

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Maybe James Lovelock changed his mind again after the interview above, just as he appeared to change his mind about climate change in 2012, back to alarmism in 2014, then skeptical again in 2016 (above). If anyone finds a post September 2016 reference to Lovelock changing his mind again, or any material which can shed more light on why Lovelock kept changing his mind, please post it in comments.

In my opinion The Guardian should not ignore interviews and public statements which contradict the one sided narrative they appear to have presented to their readers, especially when writing about someone who is no longer able to correct mistakes.

I urge The Guardian to update their obituary, to respect James Lovelock’s legacy by providing their readers with a more nuanced description of a complicated man who was unequivocally one of the giants of the green movement.

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Tom Halla
July 27, 2022 6:12 pm

Wanting subtlety out of the Guardian is like being surprised when a dog pees on a fire hydrant. Being propagandists is as much their nature as dogs scent marking.

John Garrett
July 27, 2022 6:14 pm

If you read the Associated Press obituary, you’d never know that Lovelock ever expressed any doubt whatsoever about Catastrophic/Dangerous Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change.

It’s the usual AP bought-and-paid for (bribes courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation) climate propaganda.

Wade Williams
July 27, 2022 6:15 pm

The Guardian admit something? Now that’s funny!

John Hultquist
July 27, 2022 6:24 pm

 “… Singapore. It’s two-and-a-half times higher than the worst-case scenario for climate change, …”

I have no idea what this is about.
Can someone clarify.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Eric Worrall
July 27, 2022 7:06 pm

Possibly he was referring to Singapore’s high average annual temperatures being much greater than the world’s average. Who knows? It seems that people having intense passions often jump from one fixation to another. The world didn’t warm as he originally feared. Gaia’s betrayal might have unhinged him such that his emotions swung from extreme to extreme. Again, who knows. I didn’t know the man so I don’t care.

Andy Espersen
Reply to  Eric Worrall
July 27, 2022 10:38 pm

Eric – I think you are right. All his life Lovelock was a true scientist. Always aware that whatever he stated was theories only. Always aware that theories must rigorously proved eventually – and always fully aware that in the case of climate-change only time would eventually prove which side was “right” (or actually “more right than other sides”). I followed him in all his writings over the years – and never thought of him as an alarmist.

In his remarks about Singapore, I think he was simply pointing out that the mere fact Singapore remained such desirable place to live in a way was ample proof that we should not ever be too alarmed about climate change. In a way, he trusted “the market” more than he trusted intellectual alarmism. In a way, he believed that “the market” represents more true science than mass-induced, intellectual flimflam.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Eric Worrall
July 28, 2022 12:49 am

What’s the old saying? Everyone has an opinion & just like belly-buttons, they’re ALL different!!!

Reply to  Alan the Brit
July 28, 2022 1:57 am

but some opinions get airtime for fame and to fit an agenda
animal farm some are more equal than others….

Reply to  John Hultquist
July 27, 2022 8:24 pm

Probably that Singapore is daily 31 or 32 C and that is already 2 1/2 times the predicted warming caused by a CO2 doubling, starting at the average planet temp of 15 C…..(31-15)/2.5=6.4

July 27, 2022 7:05 pm

1975 ‘Endangered Atmosphere’ Conference
Where The GW Hoax was Born
Lovelock, Margaret Mead, Erlich, Holdren,Schneider

Dave Fair
Reply to  brent
July 27, 2022 7:39 pm

Scary stuff.

joe x
Reply to  brent
July 28, 2022 5:59 am

thanks for that link brent.

Reply to  brent
July 28, 2022 6:54 am

Hardtalk – James Lovelock – Population reduction (max 1 billion)

Reply to  brent
July 28, 2022 7:04 am

We’ve lost our fear of hellfire, but put climate change in its place

“Billions will die,” says Lovelock, who tells us that he is not normally a gloomy type. Human civilisation will be reduced to a “broken rabble ruled by brutal warlords”, and the plague-ridden remainder of the species will flee the cracked and broken earth to the Arctic, the last temperate spot, where a few breeding couples will survive.

brent comment
This article cuts pretty close to the truth in the sense that people who believed they were non-religious… got a new (secular) religion without recognizing the issue as such.

Reply to  brent
July 28, 2022 7:45 am

The CAGW hoax was launched on the public in 1988 by James Hansen’s testimony to Congress and shortly afterward Thatcher’s famous UN speech (at behest of Crispin Tickell ) . Tickell was a younger cousin of Julian and Aldous Huxley (I wonder why Brave New Climate comes to mind/sarc)
Since then our Politicians have constantly urged that we must have answers to the Climate Apocalypse.

If the Politicians had instead insisted that it was urgent to have a response to a Biblical Apocalypse and showered bazillion dollars on the experts to find answers for this, everyone would have recognized what was going on.

July 27, 2022 7:14 pm

Lovelock had great respect for productive amateur scientists. He displayed this for Nature magazine in in a very positive review of Science Probe! magazine, which I co-founded and edited.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
July 28, 2022 6:39 am

Might be a bit of an eye chart. But if you’ve a large monitor, you should be good.

July 27, 2022 9:14 pm

A great man. Lovelock was more worried about habitat destruction rather than climate change or warming per se.

July 28, 2022 12:08 am

I vaguely remember a tv interview of some years ago in which he may said that he started his career as an instrument designer engineer.
He also had good sense of humour too, this was a memorable quote:
Richard Branson: James I’m starting a new airline, have I your permission to call it ‘Gaia Airlines’
James Lovelock: Yes, if I have your permission to open brothel and call it ‘Fly Virgin’

Reply to  Vuk
July 28, 2022 3:16 am

In 1957, while working with British biochemist A.J.P. Martin at NIMR, Lovelock invented the ECD, a device used in gas chromatography that draws upon the ionization properties of argon to detect trace atoms and molecules in a gas sample.
The ECD has been used to determine the concentrations of halogen compounds in food and in the atmosphere, including compounds associated with residues of the pesticide DDT and with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
In 1959 Lovelock received a D.Sc. from the University of London, where he studied biophysics.
comment image
An electron-capture detector (ECD) for a gas chromatograph, invented by James Lovelock. image: Science Museum London

Between 1961 and 1964 Lovelock served as a professor at the Baylor University College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.
During that period he also worked with colleagues at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to develop scientific instruments for NASA’s space probes, including the Viking spacecraft.
In addition, he developed tracking equipment for the British counterintelligence agency MI5.

Last edited 10 days ago by Vuk
Alan the Brit
July 28, 2022 1:01 am

I think I’ve said this before, but I consider people who go all scary wary about Climate Change, are the true Climate Change deniers, my geology books are full of examples of the Earth’s climate changing, & it always has done for 4.5 billion years, never ever stayed the same!!! The true survivors are those animals (& of which we are just one sample,) who learn to adapt to changing circumstances!!! I firmly believe that the Earth will enter a cooling phase now that the Sun appears to have entered a state of change, rather like the Little Ice-Age a few hundred years ago, with severe winters where most rivers/lakes froze solid for months on end. I feel kind of sad for the manipulators/controllers because they yet again will have to change their position simply to adopt a different tactic to achieve their objectives!!!

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Alan the Brit
July 28, 2022 1:33 am

Earth survived through the ‘Faint Sun’ times/paradox.
We have to wonder how exactly Global Warming Theory explains liquid water during that time, without CO2 levels in the trillions of ppm

No, what El Sol does is barely relevant to Gaia – it’s what Earth itself does in the shape of Plate Tectonics.
i.e. Mountain building, subduction and volcanoes = the recycling of CO2 and Sulphur and exposure of fresh micro nutrients and trace elements from ‘virgin rock’

The Major Problem is that the radio-isotopes powering Plate Tectonics are now very very old, so yes. Earth is cooling from the inside out.
When did the supernova blow that created those elements = at very minimum 5 Billion yrs ago and how many half-lives is that even for long lived stuff like Uranium and Thorium

And how that changes Climate is because plate tectonics feed Gaia
Gaia is being slowly starved ##

Gaia most definitely exists, she/her/it gets mention even round here almost daily.
Look for the term ‘Natural Variation’
also the name ‘Mankovitch’ or how clouds are **supposed** to operate

## Exactly what happened to Mars. By definition Mars has and always did have, nothing other than a faint sun in its sky yet patently liquid water existed there.
By definition, so did life.

But it fizzled out and died because Mars has no plate tectonics. The life consumed (made it water soluble then flushed it away into a salty ocean) what there was available on the original surface and without mountain-building for new food and volcanoes to do recycling, that was it. Kaput. Finito. End.

Its where we are now. near The End.
We can fix it.
Even just a fleet of modest little back-hoe loaders and Hymacs can replicate a volcano – especially if they set to work on any old already existing ones that might, just happen to, be lying around.
Not difficult to find – just look for groups of notably healthy and long-lived humans living near them.

Chris Wright
Reply to  Alan the Brit
July 28, 2022 3:27 am

“I think I’ve said this before, but I consider people who go all scary wary about Climate Change, are the true Climate Change deniers…..”
Very true.
Michael Mann often calls sceptics “climate change deniers”.
This is poisonous nonsense. After all, an important sceptical argument is that the climate is always changing.

Ironically, Mann’s hockey stick is pure climate change denialism. It attempted to re-write history by claiming the Medieval warm period and Little Ice Age never happened.

July 28, 2022 1:13 am

The BBC are similarly forgetful.
But the the Guardian and the BBC are very good friends.

Obituaries seem to be another aspect of life that has fallen prey to climate propaganda. The BBC etc. pulled a similar stunt when the Duke of Edinburgh died, twisting his laudable conservation views into support for climate change, when he actually had no time for it and had essentially called its proponents fruit loops.

Leo Smith
July 28, 2022 1:16 am

Gaia hypothesis = ” the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”
I wish I’d thought of that.

July 28, 2022 1:55 am

the grunion will NOT present anything BUT the “quasireligious” warmist agenda they stick to
neither will they allow comments suggesting anything else being possible

Matthew Sykes
July 28, 2022 5:00 am

“We were supposed to be half way to a frying world, but it just isnt happening” He said.

Trying to Play Nice
July 28, 2022 5:05 am

““It was thrilling to talk to one of the greatest minds Britain has ever produced.”

I could have sworn that many of the great scientists were British. I guess I was wrong and Britain is a land of mediocre minds.

Last edited 10 days ago by Trying to Play Nice
July 28, 2022 7:16 am

Yep, as expected, the MSM is airbrushing away those admissions. All is well in the climate crusades march.

Andy Pattullo
July 28, 2022 8:11 am

The Guardian of the alarmist dogma is not going to become a beacon of truth any more than Al Gore will become a defender of the “little people”. If you ask a shark why it bites you then you don’t understand the agenda.

Bruce Cobb
July 28, 2022 8:36 am

The only thing wrong with the Gaia hypothesis was the mystical nature of it. The homeostasis part, as Willis pointed out, he got right. Earth’s climate is actually remarkable stable, with negative feedbacks built into the system. Funny that a criticism he had of the Alarmists was the religious quality of their beliefs.

July 28, 2022 9:17 am

I have a recording of an old BBC horizon programme (in the days when Horizon was did a decent Science programme) that features James Lovelock. Must dig it out an rewatch it.

July 28, 2022 10:20 am

Lovelock is the rare exception. In 25 years of supporting skepticism of the alarmist narrative not once has a true believer accepted empirical measurements, logic or basic facts about the geologic record disproving the existential crisis claims.

Once a closed loop of perception is formed it is almost impossible for people to get out of that prison.

July 28, 2022 11:31 pm

Dr.Lovelock was a real scientist. I remember him fondly from his many visits to HP Avondale, PA. He was the father of the Electron Capture Detector, and came at least once a year to PA, s always willing to hold an impromptu lecture for us engineers. He was willing to learn about anything and was in love with nature. Here are some thoughts:

July 29, 2022 12:07 am

Here is the best quote from James Lovelock dissing the climate alarmism and it appeared in The Guardian on 29 March 2010-
“The great science centres around the world are more than well aware how weak their science is.
If you talk to them privately, they’re scared stiff of the fact that they don’t really know what the clouds and the aerosols are doing.
They could be absolutely running the show.We haven’t got the physics worked out yet.”
He was a brilliant scientist in the great tradition of what Eisenhower described in his farewell address as “the solitary inventor tinkering in his shop”,now overshadowed by “ task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields,” – the “scientific and technological elite”.
The Guardian article was “James Lovelock on the value of Sceptics and why Copenhagen was doomed”.
By the way, in it he praises two “sceptics”, Nigel Lawson and Australian Professor Garth Paltridge and his work, now published as “The Climate Caper”.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Herbert
July 29, 2022 10:15 am

Yes he was something of an enigma. His book ‘The Vanishing Face of Gaia’ (2009) has a lot that I would question in it but then you come across things like this

“wind energy is one of the more contentious and vexatious of energy sources. Used sensibly, in locations where the fickle nature of the wind is no drawback, it is a valuable local resource, but Europe’s massive use of wind as a supplement to base load electricity will probably be remembered as one of the great follies of the twenty first century – an example of impressive engineering misused by ideology and as inappropriate as passenger transport by hydrogen-filled airships” (p 81).

Speaking of a proposal in Devon-

“Were these wind farms truly efficient and capable of resolving our power needs, I might be persuaded to grit my teeth and endure their ugly intrusion, but in fact they are almost useless as a source of energy……..The wind blows only 25% of the time at the right speed to generate a useful quantity of electricity; therefore this monster would need the back-up of a near full sized fossil fuel power station whenever the wind blew too much or too little. (p 82)

“To survive on these islands with a population perhaps as large as 100m requires a constant and reliable source of electricity from indigenous fuel. It would be madness to attempt it without nuclear energy. It is sad that so many of the green movement and their intellectual followers still oppose nuclear on grounds as insubstantial as fears of hellfire and satan” (p 83)

Last edited 9 days ago by Dave Andrews
July 29, 2022 3:24 am

103 and sharp. That’s quite a good life, and I learned there was much more to James Lovelock than just the Gaia Hypothesis.

(I want to live just past 4 centuries and disappear, so my obituary reads “404: H.R. not found.”)

Wim Röst
July 29, 2022 12:54 pm

James Lovelock 2012:
“The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now.
The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time … it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising – carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that.”[41]

John Boland
July 29, 2022 8:54 pm

One lifetime, even 103 years, is just a blip. We all think we are special, and we are, but so special that we are the ones that will destroy the earth… Sure, whatever you say. The earth tries to destroy us every chance it gets. Tornados, hurricanes, lightning, disease, you name it. We are just trying to survive. Fossil fuels have helped us do that. That is all there is, survive today. Future generations will do the same, they will clean up whatever mess we leave, they’ll be fine. It’s easier, and far more efficient to clean up a known mess than it is to prevent an unknown one.


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