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James Lovelock is a British scientist and inventor. He is also 100 years old. His research extends into the fields of medicine, biology and geophysiology and he has filed more than 50 patents.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Lovelock, how are Earth’s chances of survival?
Lovelock: Gaia is in double jeopardy. On the one hand, our sun is slowly getting hotter and hotter until it will have burned up all life one day. On the other hand, humans are artificially accelerating this warming by greenhouse gases.
DER SPIEGEL: What should politicians do instead against climate change?
Lovelock: We are zipping around in airplanes too much and airfares are too cheap. Also, if you really want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, you should go for nuclear power.
DER SPIEGEL: The victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima might see things differently.
Lovelock: The tsunami in Japan in 2011 killed 20,000 people or thereabouts, but there wasn’t anybody much hurt by the Fukushima nuclear power plant itself, that’s the extraordinary thing. We estimate that the increase in mortality from higher electricity prices outnumbers the mortality itself, suggesting the decision to cease nuclear production has contributed to more deaths than the accident itself.
DER SPIEGEL: Did countries like Germany that opted out of atomic energy make a mistake?
Lovelock: Yes, very much so. France does it completely differently. DER SPIEGEL: In your new book, you suggest installing a kind of parasol in space to cool the Earth. Are you serious?
Lovelock: A sunshade a few hundred miles in diameter on a heliocentric orbit between the Earth and the sun could stop global warming completely.
DER SPIEGEL: Would it make sense to colonize Mars as a Plan B, as planned by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk?
Lovelock: It’s crazy, completely crazy. Elon Musk has read too much science fiction. We’d be better off investing that money to save the Earth.
DER SPIEGEL: Aren’t there any other geoengineering ideas for cooling our planet?
Lovelock: Well, lots of people have suggested putting sulfur compounds in the stratosphere, which would create haze and cooling clouds similar to those created by volcanic eruptions.
DER SPIEGEL: Do we understand the planet well enough make such interventions?
Lovelock: The universities claim to teach the sciences to students. They don’t. All they teach them is how to pass an exam. The universities should be reformed. The very idea of teaching separate subjects in separate buildings, isn’t that madness?
DER SPIEGEL: How do we know that such a planetary AI wouldn’t turn against us humans?
Lovelock: Well, the important thing to remember is that such an AI could think maybe 10,000 times faster than humans. That’s about the speed advantage humans have over plants.
DER SPIEGEL: This hope for a solution brought about by a benign technological singularity sounds utopian, maybe even religious.
Lovelock: It wouldn’t be the first leap in evolution that is utterly remarkable. If you think that it all started from a mess of organic chemicals left over from the debris of supernova explosions. The emergence of intelligent cyborgs is, in this sense, just another small step.