Courses
Courses Venue
Hay Festival
Gaia Theory
Local Greenlinks
Directories
Eco Footprinting
Home
 
  Contact us:
 

Gaia Theory; Science of the Living Earth

 
According to Gaia theory all the living beings in the biosphere are interconnected, keeping the planet in balance as if it were one living organism.  
Gaia Theory was first presented in the 1970s by James Lovelock, a scientist working for NASA,with the American space programme. 
The notion of Gaia - in which the earth and the living things on it form a single, self-maintaining living system - is far richer and subtler than is often assumed. It is above all a unifying concept, a new map of the world that makes it possible for us to grasp a whole web of connections that earlier concepts simply did not reveal. Because of its many-sidedness, and indeed because it is so revolutionary, Gaia Theory still has not been properly understood. According to this principle everything we do affects the whole.
Instead of being part of the problem each of us can be part of the solution towards a healthy planet and there are so many practical things we can do
.
 
MORE about Gaia Theory
Briefly stated and in the words of its originator, James Lovelock, the Gaia hypothesis postulates that "the physical and chemical condition of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere and of the oceans has been, and is, actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself ... in contrast to the conventional wisdom which held that life adapted to the planetary conditions as it, and they, evolved their separate ways.''
 

What is the hypothesis of Gaia ? Stated simply, the idea is that we may have discovered a living being bigger, more ancient, and more complex than anything from our wildest dreams. That being, called Gaia, is the Earth.
More precisely: that about one billion years after its formation, our planet was occupied by a meta-life form which began an ongoing process of transforming this planet into its own substance.
All the life forms of the planet are part of Gaia. In a way analogous to the myriad different cell colonies which make up our organs and bodies, the life forms of earth in their diversity coevolve and contribute interactively to produce and sustain the optimal conditions for the growth and prosperity not of themselves, but of the larger whole, Gaia. That the very makeup of the atmosphere, seas, and terrestrial crust is the result of radical interventions carried out by Gaia through the evolving diversity of living creatures.
Encountering the Earth from space, a witness would know immediately that the planet was alive. The atmosphere would give it away. The atmospheric compositions of our sister planets, venus and mars, are: 95-96% carbon dioxide, 3-4% nitrogen, with traces of oxygen, argon and methane. The earth's atmosphere at present is 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen with traces of carbon dioxide, methane and argon. The difference is Gaia, which transforms the outer layer of the planet into environments suitable to its further growth. For example, bacteria and photosynthetic algae began some 2.8 billions of years ago extracting the carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, setting the stage for larger and more energetic creatures powered by combustion, including, ultimately, ourselves.
That is how James Lovelock discovered Gaia; from outer space.In the 1960's, during the space race which followed the launching of Sputnik, he was asked by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Nasa to help design experiments to detect life on Mars.The Viking lander gathered and tested some Martian soil for life with no results. Lovelock had predicted as much, by analyzing the atmosphere of Mars: it is in a dead equilibrium. By contrast, the atmosphere of Earth is in a "far from equilib rium" state- meaning that there was some other complex process going on which maintained such an unlikely balance. It occurred to him that if the Viking lander had landed on the frozen waste of antarctica, it might not have found any trace of life on Earth either. But a sure giveaway would be a complete atmospheric analysis... which the Viking lander was not equipped to do. Lovelock's approach was not popular at Nasa because Nasa needed a good reason to land on Mars, and the best was to look for life. Viking found nothing on Mars, but Lovelock had seen the Earth from the perspective of an ET looking for evidence of life. And he began thinking that what he was seeing was not so much a planet adorned with diverse life forms, but a planet transfigured and transformed by a self-evolving and self-regulating living system.By the nature of its activity it seemed to qualify as a living being. He named that being Gaia, after the Greek goddess which drew the living world forth from Chaos.
"The name of the living planet, Gaia, is not a synonym for the biosphere-that part of the Earth where living things are seen normally to exist. Still less is Gaia the same as the biota, which is simply the collection of all individual living organisms. The biota and the biosphere taken together form a part but not all of Gaia. Just as the shell is part of the snail, so the rocks, the air, and the oceans are part of Gaia.
Gaia, as we shall see, has continuity with the past back to the origins of life, and in the future as long as life persists. Gaia, as a total planetary being, has properties that are not necesarily discernable by just knowing individual species or populations of organisms living together... Specifically, the Gaia hypothesis says that the temperature,oxidation, state, acidity, and certain aspects of the rocks and waters are kept constant, and that this homeostasis is maintained by active feedback processes operated automatically and unconsciously by the biota."
Even the shifting of the tectonic plates, resulting in the changing shapes of the continents, may result from the massive limestone deposits left in the earth by bioforms eons ago.
"You may find it hard to swallow the notion that anything as large and apparently inanimate as the Earth is alive. Surely, you may say, the Earth is almost wholly rock, and nearly all incandescent with heat. The difficulty can be lessened if you let the image of a giant redwood tree enter your mind.The tree undoubtedly is alive, yet 99% of it is dead.The great tree is an ancient spire of dead wood,made of lignin and cellulose by the ancestors of the thin layer of living cells which constitute its bark. How like the Earth, and more so when we realize that many of the atoms of the rocks far down into the magma were once part of the ancestral life of which we all have come."

The root question of Gaia's critics, and a central point in his theory concerns the difference between a planetary environment which might only be the aggregate result of myriad independent life forms coevolving and sharing the same host, and one which is ultimately created by life forms deployed, so to speak, to accomplish the purpose of the larger being. Is the idea of Gaia only a romantic and dramatized description of the terrestrial biosphere and its effects, or is there a planetary being, whose life cycle must be counted in the billions of years, which spawns these evolving life forms to suit the purpose of its being. Do our kidney cells ask each other these sorts of questions? While your white blood cells thrive and reproduce, going about their business,they are indisputably serving the life of the larger body which you use, though whatever consciousness they experience in their realm is certainly far from that which you, the larger being, the whole, experience.

Recent scientific work, such as in the field of complex systems, have begun to give us the impression that this opposition of terms, the larger caused by its constituents, or the costituents created by the larger, may be one of those oppositions which are the constructs of our own minds, and must be dropped if we are to understand the truth, which is neither the one nor the other, but more difficult to comprehend and more fascinating to behold.
Perhaps there is awareness appropriate at every level.Perhaps that is a property of life.
And what might be the nature of its evolution, this planetary being called Gaia? Anthropocentrists to the last, we might assume that the production of the human species is a great step upward for Gaia, a sort of rapidly evolving brain tissue. Or that she prepares the earth as a cradle and crucible of consciousness evolving. Other analogies come to mind: are we part of her arsenal of interplanetary spores ?
And what might constitute a life cycle for such a being- might it be as strange as that of the slime mold ? What stage would Gaia be in now? Is our species part of her maturity or an incubation period ? Is Gaia herself somehow part of a larger living being, perhaps on a galactic scale ? If so how do the cells of this larger being remain in communication? Will we eventually be able to experience something of the awareness which Gaia has ?

 

In classical science nature was seen as a mechanical system composed of basic building blocks. In accordance with this view, Darwin proposed a theory of evolution in which the unit of survival was the species, the subspecies, or some other building block of the biological world. But a century later it has become quite clear that the unit of survival is not any of these entities. What survives is the organism-in-its-environment.
An organism that thinks only in terms of its own survival will invariably destroy its environment and, as we are learning from bitter experience, will thus destroy itself.

From the systems point of view the unit of survival is not at entity at all, but rather a pattern of organisation adopted by an organism in its interactions with its environment; or, as neurologist Robert Livingston has expressed it, the evolutionary selection process acts on the basis of behaviour.

In our society this behaviour has been dominated by competition - This website is designed to promote the co-evolution of man and environment, based on CO-OPERATION.

In the history of life on earth, the coevolution of , microcosm and macrocosm is of particular importance. Conventional accounts of the origin of life usually describe the build-up of higher life forms in microevolution and neglect the macroevolutionary aspects. But these two are complementary aspects of the same evolutionary process, as Jantsch has emphasised. From one perspective microscopic life creates the macroscopic conditions for its further evolution; from the other perspective the macroscopic biosphere creates its own microscopic life. The unfolding of complexity arises not from adaptation of organisms to a given environment but rather from the coevolution of organism and environment at all systems levels.

When the earliest life forms appeared on earth around four billion years ago-half a billion years after the formation of the planet-they were single-celled organisms without a cell nucleus that looked rather like some of today's bacteria. These so-called prokaryotes lived without oxygen, since there was little or no free oxygen in the atmosphere. But almost as soon as the microorganisms originated they began to modify their environment and create the macroscopic conditions for the further evolution of life.

For the next two billion years some prokaryotes produced oxygen through photosynthesis, until it reached its present levels of concentration in the earth's atmosphere. Thus the stage was set for the emergence of more complex, oxygen-breathing cells that would be capable of forming cell tissues and multicellular organisms. The next important evolutionary step was the emergence of eukaryotes, single-celled organisms with a nucleus contained the organism's genetic material in its chromosomes. It was these cells that later on formed multicellular organisms.

According to Lynn Margulis, co-author of the Gaia hypothesis, eukaryotic cells originated in a symbiosis between several prokaryotes that continued to live on as organelles within the new type of cell. We have mentioned the two kinds of organelles-mitochondria and chloroplasts-that regulate the complementary respiration requirements of animals and plants. These are nothing but the former prokaryotes, which still continue to manage the energy household of the planetary Gaia system, as they have done for the past four billion years.

In the further evolution of life, two steps enormously accelerated the evolutionary process and produced an abundance of new forms.

The first was the development of sexual reproduction, which introduced extraordinary genetic variety.
The second step was the emergence of consciousness, which made it possible to replace the genetic mechanisms of evolution with more efficient social mechanisms, based upon conceptual thought and symbolic language.
While the research work of Lynn Margulis in the area of cell evolution was gradually being accepted, her collaboration with Dr James Lovelock in the formulation of the Gaia Hypothesis was often viewed in a critical manner.

 

Eco-literacy is a term used to describe the learning process which
Gaia Partnership is employing to deliver its message - to help build sustainable futures for ourselves and our children.
To live sustainably would be to
reflect the ways living systems operate in nature.
With a greater understanding of ecological processes, we can begin to move towards more natural lifestyles, within the planet's capacity to sustain us.

Eco-literacy is a term used by Fritjof Capra the scientist and systems thinker, (author of The Tao of Physics, The Web of Life and other ground breaking books).
His website is simple, clear and fun to look at: www.ecoliteracy.org
Other sites which are contributing to Ecoliteracy

 
Ecological living:
www.greenchoices.org

www.green-solutions.com

www.greenguide.co.uk
www.cat.org.uk

Measure your ecological footprint:
www.resurgence.org/carboncalculator
www.ecologicalfootprint.com
www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk
Information, public talks, Courses, events:
www.bethechange.org.uk
www.sustainable-society.co.uk

www.gaiacoach.co.uk
www.schumachercollege.org.uk
www.schumacher.org.uk
www.oceanarks.org
Climate Change:
www.COINet.org.uk
Education:
www.primrosetrust.org.uk
Energy advice for businesses:
www.carbontrust.com
www.carboncoach.com

Publications:
Resurgence: www.resurgence.org
Positive News: www.positivenews.org.uk
Yes Magazine: www.yesmagazine.org
Green Spirit: www.greenspirit.org.uk

Book Services:
Green Books: www.greenbooks.co.uk


GreenSpirit Books & Schumacher Book Service:
www.greenspirit.org.uk/books

inspiration for inner change;

www.cygnus-books.co.uk

Do let us know about other relevant sites
 
Back to top
 
  ©2007 Gaia Partnership
design: Pixelshifters