How to save humankind (according to James Lovelock) | The Economist

The Economist

Published on Jul 26, 2019

James Lovelock, the renowned scientist, is 100 years old. He believes the human race is under threat of destruction—but he has a radical plan for saving it

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Is the human race under threat of destruction? This man thinks so and he has a plan for saving it. He’s a renowned scientist, inventor and most famously he is the man who came up with a revolutionary new idea of how the Earth works. He is James Lovelock and he has just turned 100 years old.

He believes artificial intelligence or so called “cyborgs” could take control, cool the planet and allow the human species to survive. James Lovelock’s work has changed the way scientists look at everything – from the common cold, to life on Mars. He invented a device that detected ozone-damaging CFCs in the atmosphere all around the world a precursor to the detection of holes in the ozone layer. His revolutionary insights about the Earth behaving like a living being – a single, complex, self-regulating system reframed the way environmentalists understand the Earth. He named the idea after the ancient greek goddess of Earth—Gaia.

But James Lovelock’s Gaia is no kindly goddess protecting humankind from itself. He argues that humans have pushed Gaia to its limit and whilst the Earth will eventually rebalance it may be too late for the human race. Unless, that is, humans start making drastic changes.

This is his four-point plan to save humankind. By 2050, 140m people could be forced to migrate within their countries because of climate change. But why wait? James Lovelock believes land that will be made uninhabitable should be abandoned now. Humans should retreat to efficient, safe, climate-controlled cities. According to James Lovelock humans need to rethink the way they power the world, ditching fossil fuels and switching not just to renewable but to nuclear power.

Fears around nuclear energy have been compounded by disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima. But for James Lovelock these fears remain misplaced.

Global warming may be the biggest threat facing humanity. Attempts to cut carbon emissions are too small to reduce CO levels. James Lovelock thinks climate-controlling technology called geoengineering could be the answer.

In 1991 a volcanic eruption in the Philippines had a profound effect on the world. The gas cloud it produced reached the stratosphere cooling the world by as much as 0.5°C for four years. James Lovelock’s boldest prescription emerges from his belief that the Earth is on the verge of a new era. One where the dominant form of life is artificial.

He believes artificial intelligence or cyborgs will move beyond human control generating intelligences far greater than our own. They will be far more capable of tackling climate change than humans

Homo sapiens has been the dominant species on Earth for tens of thousands of years. If the human race is to survive, James Lovelock believes the key is for it to surrender its position of privilege and give way to more intelligent life. But of course there are things that even AI would struggle to control.

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