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NOTE: This summary of an essay by James Lovelock was published by Science Week on the 29th of May 1998. The essay itself was published in Science on the 8th of May 1998 (280:832).


J. Lovelock (Oxford University, UK) presents an essay on catastrophe, civilization, and information storage. The author makes the following points:

1) We try to guard against local hazards, but we tend to ignore threats global in scale.

2) We fail to distinguish between the life-span of civilizations and that of the species. Civilizations are ephemeral compared with the species: humans have lasted a million years, but there have been 30 civilizations in the past 5000 years.

3) As individuals, we are amazingly ignorant and incapable. The important difference that separates us from the social insects is that they carry the instructions for nest building in their genes. We have no permanent ubiquitous record of our civilization from which to restore it should it fail. We would have to start again at the beginning.

4) What we need is a primer on science, clearly written and unambiguous in its meaning--a primer for anyone interested in the state of the Earth and how to survive and live well on it. One that would serve also as a primary school science text. It would be the scientific equivalent of the Bible.

5) Modern media are more fallible instruments for long- term storage than was the spoken word. They require the support of a sophisticated technology that we cannot take for granted.

6) What we need is a book written on durable paper with long-lasting print, a book written with authority and readable enough to ensure a place in every home, school, library, and place of worship--on hand whatever happened.

James Lovelock,
Coombe Mill, St. Giles on the Heath,
Launceton PL15 9RY, UK.

Science Week
Copyright (c) 1998 Spectrum Press Inc.
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