When I woke up this morning and turned on the morning news, I heard about the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan at 2:30pm their time. My heart went out to the people of Japan as I watched the footage of the waves and flooding of the coastal areas. It was a really vivid reminder of the strength, unpredictability, and dynamic forces of nature.
This seemed a perfect way to introduce my page about Gaia in Balance.
Today’s Tsunami and the cascade of predictions of aftershocks throughout North America, the domino effects of the Tsunami on the nuclear power plant in Japan, and for subsequent natural disasters (with negative feedback loops in this system) really brought this idea of Gaia, and its equilibrium which is out of balance, to my mind.
It’s actually interesting to think about how similar Gaia and the state of equilibrium or imbalance is so similar to that of our own body ecosystems. I began to think how when our bodies are out of balance we see this imbalance in the form of physical ailments, diseases, cancers, etc. Gaia is a way of looking at Earth in the same way. When we have an increase of GHGs, or irregularity in the biogeochemical cycles, this pushes Gaia out of homeostasis (out of a stable, constant position), and so…the idea is that it acts to reinstate that balance.
In the same way, I’ve been exploring ways of restoring and maintaining the homeostasis of my body through whole, natural, and organic foods, as well as exercise of my body and mind, I want to think about the homeostasis of the Earth…so, I present to you the Gaia Hypothesis…
James Lovelock, a British research scientist formulated the Gaia Hypothesis as a consequence of his work for NASA on methods of detecting life on Mars in the mid-1960s. In 1979, he published some of his ideas in a book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, where he defined Gaia as1:
- a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.
- This is in contrast to the conventional wisdom which held that life adapted to the planetary conditions as it and they evolved their separate ways.
- The entire range of living matter on Earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts…[Gaia can be defined] as a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback of cybernetic systems which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.
When Lovelock wrote his second book The Ages of Gaia, he clarified his definition2:
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.
The Gaia Hypothesis is now considered within the disciplines of ecological science, earth system science, and geophysiology, which take into account the interactions between biota, the oceans, the geosphere, and the atmosphere..
There are some main concepts in this hypothesis3:
Gaia behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological, and human components. The interactions and feedbacks between the components are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability.
It also looks to understand the effects and consequences of human-driven change on the natural dynamics of the Earth system, as indicated by critical thresholds and abrupt changes of ecosystem processes.
Over the last half million years, there have been abrupt transitions (a decade or less) occurring between different states, however, human-driven impacts (anthropogenic impacts) are significantly influencing Earth’s environment in many ways, more than just increases in greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. These changes affect Earth’s land surface, oceans, coasts and atmosphere and biological diversity, the water cycle and bio-geochemical cycles in ways, rates, and magnitudes that are unprecedented and often beyond natural variability, extent, and impact. These impacts are also not simple cause-effect paradigms, but rather multi-dimensional, and cascade through the Earth system in complex ways. These effects interact with each other and with local- and regional-scale changes, and the resulting patterns are difficult to understand and even more difficult to predict.
It’s very complex (and interesting) stuff…
In the future, the Gaia in Balance page is a space to explore key events, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and explore how Gaia is seemingly self-regulating. It’s also a space to see how my impacts might affect Gaia, without any negative intention.
1. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock
2. The Ages of Gaia by James Lovelock
Tomorrow, I’ll share with you my ode to the ocean, with my March novel ingredient and recipe…
~ kaia in balance ~