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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index L > James Lovelock Quotes

James Lovelock
(7 1919 - 7 2022)

British climatologist and inventor who invented (1957) the electron capture detector, a portable analytical instrument able to detect infinitesimal traces of man-made chemicals. From the late 1960s, Lovelock championed his Gaia theory of Earth as a planet-sized superorganism.

Science Quotes by James Lovelock (16 quotes)

Any artist or novelist would understand—some of us do not produce their best when directed. We expect the artist, the novelist and the composer to lead solitary lives, often working at home. While a few of these creative individuals exist in institutions or universities, the idea of a majority of established novelists or painters working at the “National Institute for Painting and Fine Art” or a university “Department of Creative Composition” seems mildly amusing. By contrast, alarm greets the idea of a creative scientist working at home. A lone scientist is as unusual as a solitary termite and regarded as irresponsible or worse.
— James Lovelock
Homage to Gala: The Life of an Independent Scholar (2000), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Alarm (19)  |  Art (664)  |  Artist (95)  |  Autobiography (58)  |  Best (464)  |  Composition (85)  |  Contrast (44)  |  Creative (141)  |  Creativity (80)  |  Department (92)  |  Direct (225)  |  Do (1905)  |  Exist (447)  |  Expect (203)  |  Home (179)  |  Idea (861)  |  Individual (411)  |  Institution (69)  |  Irresponsible (5)  |  Lead (388)  |  Live (637)  |  Majority (66)  |  Novelist (8)  |  Painter (29)  |  Regard (305)  |  Scientist (856)  |  Solitary (15)  |  Termite (7)  |  Understand (634)  |  University (125)  |  Unusual (37)

As Arthur C. Clarke has observed: “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.” Nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is sea, which is why those magnificent photographs taken from space show our planet as a sapphire blue globe, flecked with soft wisps of cloud and capped by brilliant white fields of polar ice.
— James Lovelock
From opening paragraph to Chap. 6, 'The Sea', in James E. Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979) 84. The origin of the Arthur C. Clarke quote is not cited therein, and Webmaster has, as yet, been unable to locate a primary source, although found widely quoted without citation, in print and on the web. Note that G. Carleton Ray made a similar quote in 1963, naming “sea” rather than “Ocean”. See the web page for Ray on this site for his quote, beginning, “We call this planet Earth…”.
Science quotes on:  |  Blue (61)  |  Brilliant (55)  |  Call (772)  |  Cap (2)  |  Arthur C. Clarke (49)  |  Clearly (43)  |  Cloud (109)  |  Earth (1034)  |  Field (372)  |  Fleck (2)  |  Globe (50)  |  Ice (56)  |  Inappropriate (5)  |  Magnificent (45)  |  Observe (175)  |  Ocean (207)  |  Photograph (22)  |  Planet (381)  |  Polar (13)  |  Sapphire (4)  |  Sea (321)  |  Space (510)  |  Surface (216)  |  Three-Quarters (3)  |  White (129)

At best, perhaps it [large-scale geoengineering] will buy us some time.
— James Lovelock
As told to and quoted in Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate (2010), 92-93. Jeff Goodall writes that Lovelock had told him, this could be (without quote marks) an emergency measure, much like kidney dialysis is necessary to a person whose health is failing.
Science quotes on:  |  Temporary (24)

I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change.… The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.
— James Lovelock
As quoted in 'James Lovelock: Humans Are Too Stupid to Prevent Climate Change', Guardian (29 Mar 2010).
Science quotes on:  |  Clever (40)  |  Climate Change (74)  |  Complex (196)  |  Evolution (621)  |  Human (1491)  |  Inertia (16)  |  Meaningful (18)

I think that we reject the evidence that our world is changing because we are still, as that wonderfully wise biologist E. O. Wilson reminded us, tribal carnivores. We are programmed by our inheritance to see other living things as mainly something to eat, and we care more about our national tribe than anything else. … . We still find alien the concept that we and the rest of life, from bacteria to whales, are parts of the much larger and diverse entity, the living Earth.
— James Lovelock
In The Revenge of Gaia (2006).
Science quotes on:  |  Bacteria (49)  |  Carnivore (2)  |  Climate Change (74)  |  Evidence (263)  |  Living Earth (2)  |  Reject (65)  |  Remind (16)  |  Tribe (24)  |  Whale (44)  |  Edward O. Wilson (80)  |  World (1822)

If there were a billion people living on the planet, we could do whatever we please. But there are nearly seven billion. At this scale, life as we know it today is not sustainable.
— James Lovelock
As told to and quoted in Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate (2010), 91.
Science quotes on:  |  Billion (98)  |  Earth (1034)  |  Life (1830)  |  People (1012)

If you were an artist or novelist, or a poet or somebody like that, nobody would think it odd if you worked in your own home. In science there’s none of this at all. I’m almost the only independent scientist in Britain. Everybody else works in large institutions, universities, or industrial labs. Why should one expect scientists to work that way?
— James Lovelock
From Visionaries documentary, 'The Man Who Named the World' (1989). As quoted on jameslovelock.org website.
Science quotes on:  |  Artist (95)  |  Britain (25)  |  Expect (203)  |  Home (179)  |  Independent (69)  |  Industrial (14)  |  Institution (69)  |  Laboratory (202)  |  Novelist (8)  |  Poet (94)  |  Scientist (856)  |  University (125)  |  Work (1374)

I’d sooner expect a goat to succeed as a gardener than expect humans to become stewards of the earth.
— James Lovelock
Expressing pessimism about the profound hubris in proposing large-scale geoengineering efforts. As told to and quoted in Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate (2010), 92.
Science quotes on:  |  Earth (1034)  |  Expect (203)  |  Gardener (5)  |  Goat (8)  |  Human (1491)  |  Succeed (112)

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.
— James Lovelock
From a talk at Geological Society of London, 'Conjectures of an Independent Scientist' (5 May 2011). As quoted on jameslovelock.org website.
Science quotes on:  |  Climate Change (74)  |  Concern (232)  |  Harmful (13)  |  Need (303)  |  Probability (135)  |  Reason (757)  |  Retirement (8)

No one who has experienced the intense involvement of computer modeling would deny that the temptation exists to use any data input that will enable one to continue playing what is perhaps the ultimate game of solitaire.
— James Lovelock
Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979), 137-8.
Science quotes on:  |  Computer (130)  |  Continue (170)  |  Data (161)  |  Deny (70)  |  Enable (120)  |  Exist (447)  |  Gaia (3)  |  Game (102)  |  Playing (42)  |  Temptation (14)  |  Ultimate (151)  |  Use (768)  |  Will (2352)

Science is a cosy, friendly club of specialists who follow their numerous different stars; it is proud and wonderfully productive but never certain and always hampered by the persistence of incomplete world views.
— James Lovelock
From The Revenge of Gaia (2006).
Science quotes on:  |  Certain (552)  |  Club (7)  |  Follow (384)  |  Friend (172)  |  Hamper (5)  |  Incomplete (31)  |  Persistence (25)  |  Pride (81)  |  Productive (34)  |  Specialist (30)  |  Star (448)  |  World View (3)

The entire range of living matter on Earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts.
— James Lovelock
In Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979), 9.
Science quotes on:  |  Algae (7)  |  Atmosphere (112)  |  Capable (169)  |  Constituent (47)  |  Constitute (98)  |  Endow (15)  |  Entity (36)  |  Faculty (74)  |  Life On Earth (14)  |  Maintain (105)  |  Need (303)  |  Oak (16)  |  Power (757)  |  Single (360)  |  Virus (31)  |  Whale (44)

The great rapidity with which we add carbon gases to the air is as damaging as is the quantity.
— James Lovelock
From Lecture at the Royal Society, 'Climate Change on a Living Earth' (29 Oct 2007). As quoted on jameslovelock.org website.
Science quotes on:  |  Atmosphere (112)  |  Carbon Dioxide (23)  |  Climate Change (74)  |  Damage (37)  |  Methane (8)  |  Quantity (134)  |  Rapidity (28)

Until that afternoon, my thoughts on planetary atmospheres had been wholly concerned with atmospheric analysis as a method of life detection and nothing more. Now that I knew the composition of the Martian atmosphere was so different from that of our own, my mind filled with wonderings about the nature of the Earth. If the air is burning, what sustains it at a constant composition? I also wondered about the supply of fuel and the removal of the products of combustion. It came to me suddenly, just like a flash of enlightenment, that to persist and keep stable, something must be regulating the atmosphere and so keeping it at its constant composition. Moreover, if most of the gases came from living organisms, then life at the surface must be doing the regulation.
— James Lovelock
Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scholar (2000), 253.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (354)  |  Analysis (242)  |  Atmosphere (112)  |  Burning (49)  |  Combustion (18)  |  Composition (85)  |  Concern (232)  |  Constant (145)  |  Detection (19)  |  Different (581)  |  Doing (280)  |  Earth (1034)  |  Enlightenment (20)  |  Extraterrestrial Life (20)  |  Flash (49)  |  Fuel (35)  |  Gaia (3)  |  Life (1830)  |  Living (492)  |  Mars (45)  |  Method (517)  |  Mind (1359)  |  More (2559)  |  Most (1729)  |  Must (1525)  |  Nature (1973)  |  Nothing (987)  |  Organism (225)  |  Planet (381)  |  Planetary (29)  |  Product (162)  |  Regulation (24)  |  Something (718)  |  Stable (30)  |  Suddenly (89)  |  Supply (97)  |  Surface (216)  |  Sustain (48)  |  Thought (967)  |  Wholly (88)  |  Wonder (247)

We have to stop thinking of human needs and rights alone. Let us be brave and see that the real threat comes from the living earth, which we have harmed and is now at war with us.
— James Lovelock
From speech to International Conference, Paris, 'Nuclear Energy for the 21st Century', (21–22 Mar 2005). As quoted on jameslovelock.org website.
Science quotes on:  |  Harm (41)  |  Human (1491)  |  Living Earth (2)  |  Need (303)  |  Right (459)  |  Threat (34)  |  War (229)

You could quite seriously look at climate change as a response of the system designed — well, ‘de- signed’ would be a very dangerous word to use — intended to get rid of an irritating species: us humans. Or at least cut them back to size.
— James Lovelock
As told to and quoted in Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate (2010), 92.
Science quotes on:  |  Climate Change (74)  |  Exterminate (10)  |  Human (1491)  |  Irritate (2)  |  Response (56)  |  Species (419)



Quotes by others about James Lovelock (1)

If Lovelock hadn’t detected those CFCs [in the atmosphere above Antarctica] we’d all be living under the ocean in snorkels and fins to escape that poisonous sun.
As quoted in Jeff Goodell, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate (2010), 95. Goodell noted that Nobel Prize-winning scientists Rowland and Molina hypothesized that sunlight split apart CFC molecules, releasing reactive chlorine atoms, that would burn a hole in the protective ozone layer of the atmosphere, increasing danger from more ultraviolet light penetrating to the earth. When the ozone hole was experimentally verified over Antarctica, the potential destruction to the planet on a grand scale was realized, CFCs were banned, and ozone depletion was halted. Rowland and Molina shared a 1995 Nobel Prize. Although earlier, Lovelock had recognized “no conceivable hazard” from CFCs in the earth’s atmosphere, he was nevertheless the first to detect them in the atmosphere over Antarctica. For this critical evidence, Lovelock was at least mentioned in the Nobel Prize press release.
Science quotes on:  |  Antarctica (8)  |  Atmosphere (112)  |  Detect (45)  |  Escape (82)  |  Fin (4)  |  Life (1830)  |  Ocean (207)  |  Poisonous (4)  |  Sun (402)


Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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