The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. By Robert H. Frank. Basic Books. $26.
The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity. By James Lovelock. Basic Books. $15.95.
Ever since Thomas Carlyle first called economics “the dismal science” in the mid-19th century, there have been economists finding ways to prove the epithet wrong. Robert H. Frank, a professor of management and economics at
The Revenge of Gaia, originally published last year and now available in paperback, has none of the lightness or lightheartedness of Frank’s book. James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia theory – which says that Earth behaves as a single, self-regulating organism – is intensely serious in arguing that our planet is critically ill, because of human activity. Yes, this is the same greenhouse-gas argument that many others have made and continue to make, but Lovelock’s passion and scientific reasoning make his book clearer and more disturbing than anything coming out of self-interested politicians. “The concept of Gaia, a living planet, is for me the essential basis of a coherent and practical environmentalism,” writes Lovelock. “It counters the persistent belief that Earth is a property, an estate, there to be exploited for the benefit of humankind.” He adds that few people, “even among climate scientists and ecologists, seem yet to realize fully the potential severity, or the imminence, of catastrophic global disaster.” Lovelock’s aim is to increase the level of realization – which he does through effective and often-frightening marshalling and juxtaposition of facts about environmental change and degradation. Unfortunately for him, and perhaps for all of us, the parade of problems has become commonplace, and “imminent global disaster” is simply too big a concern to allow most people to take action. Lovelock does not believe in the “think globally, act locally” concept, since Earth’s problems are so huge that they require concerted global effort. But he acknowledges that we face a future of increasing tribalism – so how will we get together as one world to solve Gaia’s troubles? Even in a single country, the