to Gaia theory all the living beings in the biosphere are
interconnected, keeping the planet in balance as if it were one living
Theory was first presented in the 1970s by James Lovelock, a scientist
working for NASA,with the American space programme.
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.
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
|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
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
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,
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."
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
a term used to describe the learning process which
is employing to deliver its message - to help build sustainable futures
for ourselves and our children.
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
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
His website is simple, clear and fun to look at: www.ecoliteracy.orgOther sites
which are contributing to Ecoliteracy