No, he does not make the case for ‘sustainable’ renewable energy being our saviour – in fact, he is dismissive, especially regarding the prospects for wind energy making a serious contribution to our energy needs. He has less to say about solar power, in fact there is not one reference to either photovoltaic nor concentrated solar power systems, but he makes a strong case for nuclear power.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his enthusiasm for nuclear fission to generate sufficient energy for humanity’s needs, he says nothing about the thorny issue of nuclear waste.
But he does take on the safety issues surrounding nuclear energy by arguing that concerns over radiation poisoning are frequently overplayed. And to those who point to nuclear disasters such as the tsunami that damaged the Japanese reactors at Fukushima, he recalls that many people in Los Angeles, fearful that radiation from the damaged plants across the Pacific Ocean would reach their city, purchased the entire supply of potassium iodine, to protect themselves from radiation poisoning.
“So far as I am aware,” Lovelock states, “the quantity of radioactive iodine from Fukushima reaching Los Angeles was too low to measure against the background radiation … if a lie can be defined as a deliberate act of deception, then almost all nuclear scare stories are lies.”
He makes the case that the general public’s apprehension over radiation stems from the fear of thermonuclear war.
He writes: “Consider the incontrovertible fact that we inhabit a universe that is nuclear powered … We could have used this stellar gift to provide the clean energy we now need, but instead we made bombs of fearful destructive force.”
Lovelock points out that the world’s reaction to Fukushima should have been humane compassion towards the Japanese people, who had suffered one of the worst natural disasters in memory.
“Instead, Germany and Italy immediately shut down their own nuclear power stations. It was a wicked act that revealed us as a hopelessly ignorant species,” Lovelock argues.
He adds: “If collective guilt is appropriate, then it should be reserved for the act of using nuclear energy for war, so that it now haunts us with guilt, not the joy it should have brought.”
Where Lovelock talks about collective guilt, he is talking of the guilt that, he tells us, in his book’s introduction, is an “urban green” attitude that judges most of us “guilty” of causing adverse climate change, “and does so without due process of moral and scientific evidence”.
It is at once a controversial yet fascinating argument, made by one of the world’s leading scientists, yet it is just the start of Lovelock’s book’s provocative thinking. For Lovelock goes on to suggest that humanity may evolve to become a cooperative life form of wet, organic chemical life and dry electronic life evolved in synchrony [a theory that he credits was first proposed by his friend and colleague, Lynn Margulis].
“These imaginary electronic life forms,” Lovelock writes, “based on semi-conducting elements or compounds, might fill the body of a new form of life and take over from us the task of sustaining a self-regulating planet with an environment that would be sustained always at a habitable state for them.”