Almost 25 years ago James Lovelock called the Earth Gaia. Now, he says, global warming means Gaia faces imminent catastrophe.

Your new book is called The Revenge of Gaia. You've said your view of Gaia as a self-regulating organism was intuitive. What insight gave birth to it?

It all occurred 40 years when I was working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. An astronomer came in with some infrared analysis of Mars and Venus, showing that they were probably lifeless planets, because of their atmospheres. The Earth has an extraordinarily remarkable atmosphere, with a mixture of gases. Then the intuition came—my goodness, ours is a planet regulating its own climate, always comfortable for whatever is the contemporary biosphere, not just adapting to the environment, but changing it.

You make a controversial call for greater dependence on nuclear power as the most viable short-term solution for cutting back on carbon-based fuels and dealing with global warming. What's your thinking?

I'm no great nuclear fanatic. I think nuclear power is a good solution for certain countries. Not Iceland, with its thermal power, or Norway, with its hydroelectric power. But countries like Britain and Germany and to a lesser extent the United States need the security of energy supplies, a backup to keep electricity going until other sources are available. And, my goodness, if power were out for a major city like London or New York, they would be lifeless in a matter of weeks.

The Kyoto Treaty: flawed failure or important first step?

Oh, flawed. I see it as a good try by politicians—but equivalent to the Munich Treaty of 1938: a measure by politicians to show they were attempting to deal with a crisis, but not really a serious effort.

How close to the brink of environmental catastrophe is the world?

Opinions vary. Personally, I have a top-down view. Specialists only see a bit of the story—glaciologists see the glaciers melting, people who are working on tropical forests see them vanishing, but they don't always talk to each other. When you put it all together, the picture is very grim.

Given your prognosis, do you wish you could be around for another 100 years to see how things shake out?

That's an intriguing thought! Well, of course I do. Every scientist would be privileged to be present at a major ecological event. There hasn't been anything like what's happening now for 55 million years, when fossil evidence suggests that because of a rise in the Earth's temperature nearly all life migrated towards the Poles for the next 200,000 years.