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Scientist James Lovelock

Exeter researchers pay tribute to James Lovelock

University of Exeter researchers have paid tribute to scientist James Lovelock, who has died aged 103.

Lovelock's work included the Gaia Hypothesis, which views our planet as a living, self-regulating system.

He inspired many people in science and wider society.

Lovelock spoke in Exeter in 2019 at a conference entitled: "James Lovelock Centenary: The Future of Global Systems Thinking".

"Jim Lovelock was my scientific hero and mentor and a wonderful friend," said Professor Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute.

"Jim’s books on Gaia captivated me as an 18-year-old and set my own scientific path.

"He will go down in history as the person who changed our view of our place on Earth.

"He will be deeply missed but his extraordinary life and contribution to us all should also be greatly celebrated.

"We need Jim’s way of thinking now more than ever if we are to get out of a climate and ecological crisis of our own making."

Professor Peter Cox said: “Jim Lovelock has had a huge influence on the thinking of many of us at Exeter, especially me.

"When I first started working on Earth System Modelling at the Met Office Hadley Centre in the early 1990s, Richard Betts and I visited Jim and Sandy Lovelock on a number of occasions at their home – ‘Coombe Mill’ near Launceston.

"Jim generously shared his unique Gaian view of the Earth System, as well as his innate sense of fun, which gave us the courage to make the first attempts to model ecosystems as an intrinsic part of the climate system.

"Life-long friendships were made through Jim, especially with Tim Lenton and Andy Watson, who subsequently became valued colleagues at the University of Exeter."

Professor Cox added: “Jim was always welcoming, charming, creative, challenging, and mischievous.

"I didn’t always agree with everything he said, but I think he liked it that way.

"Jim was also the bravest scientist I have ever known.

"He challenged any preconceived notions that we had of him, even when those notions were entirely affectionate.

"I see Jim as the inventor of what we now call ‘Earth System Science’ and as a guiding light for our Global Systems Institute at Exeter (which I will always think of as the ‘Lovelock Institute’).”

Professor Andrew Watson said: "Jim had a huge influence on me, as well as many others here at Exeter.

"He was my PhD supervisor back in the seventies, and my friend for 50 years, and I've always looked to him as my 'father in science'.

"He lived so long, and so well, that I had begun to think of him as immortal, and his death comes as a great sadness.

"However, I believe his ideas and his wisdom will continue to be a guide for us all through this 21st century, in learning how to live sustainably on this small planet."

Dr James Dyke said: "Jim was not only a genius, he got us to see the Earth and us differently.

"Viewing the Earth as a system and humans as part of that system was a revolutionary insight."

Professor Richard Betts MBE, of the University of Exeter and the Met Office, said: “I am devastated by Jim’s death.

"He was a source of inspiration to me for my entire career, and in fact his first book on Gaia was a major reason why I chose to work on climate change and Earth system modelling.

"I feel deeply privileged to have come to know him and work with him over the years.

"Jim’s influence is widespread, profound and long-lasting.

"He will be remembered for his warm, fun-loving personality, his truly innovative thinking, his clarity of communication, his willingness to take bold risks in developing his ideas, and his abilities to bring people together and learn from them.

"My deepest sympathy to Sandy and the rest of Jim’s family. Rest in Gaia, Jim, you will be missed.”

Date: 28 July 2022