James Lovelock Gaia Hypothesis

James Lovelock 1919 – 2022 was an environmentalist and futurist. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system. A popular sentiment among environmentalist and ecologists it may have served as a useful metaphor or as Lovelock stated “a kind of looking glass” or myth.

The hypothesis however held no sway in the scientific community as scientists questioned how natural selection operating on individual organisms can lead to the evolution of planetary-scale homeostasis.

Richard Dawkins was a leading opponent. The Gaia Hypothesis was dismissed on its publication in the 1970s.

“We may have argued about Gaia, but we never quarreled. I hope that Richard Dawkins is remembered as a savant. As an erstwhile Quaker I have no strong ideas about the God delusion. I was brought up to believe in God as the still small voice within.” James Lovelock


James Lovelock was also outspoken in his vision of the future, he saw that we need to ”brace for impact” or as he described it to “retreat”.

Retreat means making plans for the migration of millions of people from low-lying regions and admitting failure.

Much of New York, Florida and the Eastern United States will have to be abandoned, people will need to be relocated. Order will need to be maintained.
Much of the coastline is under water with only a 1 meter rise of the oceans. This is predicted for before 2100.

Sea level forecasts are controversial and considered low ball because they do not account for the possibility of rapid ice flow from Greenland or the Antarctic into the sea.

Those two ice sheets alone hold enough water to raise sea level by 65 meters, compared to 0.4 meters from all the world’s mountain glaciers.

Retreat means leaving the Hawaiian Islands and Japanese Islands, Tokyo and Osaka, Tokyo is built at sea level on the convergence of 3 large rivers in a low lying estuary.

Tokyo is a city built on water and is specifically listed as a city that will be abandoned due to rising sea levels. Other threatened cities include major urban hubs in the east like, Mumbai, Lagos, Shanghai, Dhaka and Tokyo.

We will have to retreat from the heavily-populated mega-delta regions in Southeast Asia like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tianjin and Xinjiang, collectively they could generate up to 50 million climate refugees.

Rising sea levels set to displace 45 Million people in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin

Sea level rises corresponds to the 2-degrees and 4-degrees scenarios – at 4.7 metres and 8.9 metres respectively

Worst hit will be low lying areas like the Maldives and Bangladesh, subject to monsoons and multi meter storm surges and a meter of sea level rise that could displace another 100 million people.

In Bangladesh 160 million people live in an area barely larger than England. The country’s average altitude is less than 10m above sea level, making it very vulnerable to sea level rises.

Most of all “retreat” was about everybody trying to sustain civilization, so that we do not degenerate into a Dark Age of warlords.

James Lovelocks’ schemes were legendary, controversial and novel. A visionary Gaia legend may speak to some and motivate them to become green, deep or progressive ecologists which is good. However getting wrapped up in myth rather than developing a scientific Occam’s razor for dealing with our crisis in survival may have been a fatal mis-step.

The intelligent use of technology and the application of science is our only hope. We need to apply a high level of thinking and planning to our economy.

Rather than going to space our communities need to become “ecology stations” on earth where we live, as Bookchin described, a healthy social ecology; where our existence does not destroy other species.

This will require fewer people and more planing if we are to maintain any level of freedom. Freedom cannot exist on a 10 billion person planet

James Lovelock was an ecological pioneer who wrote about a global consciousness in the form of Gaia that only fed into the idea that a “change of consciousness” was what was needed and as such he was acting as a distraction rather than being any part of a solution.

Working together for change

Katie Fitzpatrick wrote an interesting article contrasting Thoreau and Arendt, insisting that the moral philosophy of Thoreau, his type of civil disobedience was anathema to the collective spirit that ought to guide acts of public refusal. Its a line of thought protesters should consider. The article can be found here: Hannah Arendt: Change the world, not yourself can be found here.

Only two problems to fix

There are only 2 problems worth addressing, all others are derivative. Pipelines, expressways, species loss, global warming, ocean acidification, dead zones and the resulting canfield oceans, depletion of forests, minerals, soils, fish stocks, the buildup of toxins, pesticides and effluent in the oceans be it oil, farm runoff or plastics, all these problems and more are derivative of two things.

1: Our Population

You, me, all of us. Not some Midwest hunter with with a truck or the Nigerian with 3 wives and 25 children, not the Chinese businessman or the Brazilian slum dweller. Not one identity or another, just us, all of us. Its not our individual footprint, its our collective concrete path. Its not personal its organizational.

The situation is not improving because the % rate of change is getting smaller. The actual numbers of new people are growing faster and faster. As you can see during Lovelock’s lifetime world population growth has accelerated as follows:

YearPopulationRate of changeNew People per year
As the population grows the % change gets smaller but the actual numbers of people get worse. You do not need a math degree to understand that 1% of 8 billion is bigger than 2% of 2 billion.

2: Our Tax Laws

Ours is an intentional community, their is no free market. We have a tax structure that carefully created exactly what we have today. The hidden hand of the market is an 18th century myth, like Gaia is a 20th century myth. Change the tax laws if you want to change the world. Its not your diet or car, no number of farm animals in sanctuaries or vegans on bicycles is going to help us. Its about changing the tax code to stop and reverse population growth, stop mass accumulations of wealth and structure a society that does not consume itself and collapse into brutal tribal warfare.


H. D. Thoreau said it succinctly “ There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” The Evil is growing more than twice as fast today as it was in 1919 and that evil is population growth.

Environmentalism is a broad ideology concerned with the protection of the ecology and as such has been less than effective in averting ecological collapse.

It needs to be tightly focused to be a force of good. When it deals with our growing population and gives specific guidelines on the society we want to intentionally create through our tax code then it will become a force for good. Until then it is just another accomplice to the rape of the planet.

Weird Sly Kip
August 2 2022

A sunny humid day in Ottawa with warm breezes and diffuse sunlight. Enjoying the summer, thinking of deep ecology, social ecology and friends who fought for ecological justice over the years.