On Footprint, I explore key social & environmental issues – everything from urbanism to globalism, nature preservation & conservation, sustainability and how we interact with the world around us.
This is a space where I reflect on how my impacts might affect our living planet, or Gaia as James Lovelock coined her. It’s a place to explore how I can do better tomorrow.
Chronicle of my Gaia posts:
March 11, 2011 – Homeostasis – Body and Earth
Background about 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.
1. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock
2. The Ages of Gaia by James Lovelock