Mapping life expectancy of Earth

 Dr James Lovelock

Life on Earth may end in about a billion years or less, argued Dr James Lovelock, the renowned independent natural scientist who has developed the Gaian theory, in the second of the 1997 Green College Lecture series, `The Shape of Things to Come.'

Taking climate as his main theme as he looked at the future of life on Earth, Dr Lovelock, an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Green College, began by stating that life on this planet depends, for the most part, on the future of the sun.

He said that while the global system of life and its physical environment—in shorthand, Gaia—was exceedingly tough and resistant, conditions were now worse than two billion years ago due to the gradual rise in the temperature of the sun.

Examining the puzzle of why the Earth's climate has remained more or less constant for so long, Dr Lovelock put forward the argument that the behaviour of living organisms, when coupled with their physical surroundings, had a self-regulatory effect on climate. Gaia theory sets out to show how such self regulation, involving large scale planetary phenomena, actually happened.

He concluded that Gaia is a able to resist planetary perturbation. But he claimed that, just as we have a finite life span, so does planetary life.

`Gaia is 3.5 billion years old, nearly a third as old as the universe. But she cannot survive anything like a further 3.5 billion years. If we wish to keep for our descendants a comfortable climate, we should take care not to precipitate the jump to the next, and much warmer, stable warm state of Gaia,' he said.

Other lectures in the series included Professor George Efstathiou, on `The Future of the Universe,' and Professor John Gray on `The Future of Human Society.' The final lecture on Monday, 10 February, in the Witts Lecture Theatre at the Radcliffe Infirmary, will be by author and critic, Mr Brian Aldiss, speaking on `Inventing the Future: Utopia or Dystopia.'


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