James Lovelock is one of the most influential scientists of our time, he worked for the British government during the second world war and later for NASA on the Mars Viking mission. It was then that he was inspired to develop the Gaia Hypothesis, the idea that the Earth is a massively interconnected, self-regulating system. And we couldn’t agree more.
Lovelock first suggested that Earth was akin to a living organism, regulating its temperature and chemistry to keep conditions suitable for life back in the 70’s and its safe to say that throughout the scientific world there is a love/hate relationship towards this theory. Biologists hated it, but the idea that our planet was somehow alive found favour with philosophers, poets, writers, environmentalists and many others alike. Loved or hated this theory has been both hugely influential and controversial in shaping how scientists today view both climate change and biodiversity. The theory has evolved into the foundations of what is known as Earth System Science (ESS), a rapidly emerging transdisciplinary endeavour aimed at understanding the structure and functioning of the Earth as a complex, adaptive system.
"Dr. Lovelock and Dr. Margulis played a key role in the origins of what we now know as Earth system science". NASA's Director for Planetary Science, James Green
Why did the public love James Lovelock’s Gaia theory so much while scientists hated it? Well currently there is little hard science to back up this theory (although you can find some links to scientific articles that are starting to lean towards this theory at the end of this article). It connects deeply to what has been felt and expressed for thousands of years even Plato viewed the cosmos as a living thing endowed with soul and intelligence.
Consider this: The air we breathe, rich in oxygen with only traces of carbon dioxide, is created by plants. Trees suck up huge quantities of rainwater that would otherwise flow back into the sea, and release it into the air. Much of the rain in the Amazon comes from the trees themselves - this is a system, for me even comparable to a body, regulating/living on a different scale - all of the land, air, waters, plants working like animals in a swam - greater as a whole than as individuals. Agree or disagree it is an approach to make you think and feel about Mother Earth.
Lovelock is now 101 and this weekend just past Science Museum in Manchester held a panel to discuss his work and ask him a couple of questions which you can watch here.....
CLIMATE TALKS: Earth, but not as we know it: Lovelock's legacy and our future
We also found a beautiful interview from New Scientist that we absolutely loved, you can find the video in this article:
Other reading on the topic:
Gaia rebooted: New version of idea explains how Earth evolved for life.
The controversial Gaia hypothesis sees Earth as a superorganism adapted to be perfect for life. A weird type of evolution may finally show how that actually happens
Gaia's comeback: How life shapes the weather
The world would be warming even faster if forests weren't calling in the clouds. Could it be that Gaia is not so helpless after all?