While still controversial among scientists, Gaia Theory offers one of the best overall pictures of how our planet works. It postulates that biological life in its myriad forms plays a role in the regulation of the Earth’s climate to provide hospitable living conditions. The economy of the Earth (i.e., the management of resources) is organized by cells, organelles, molecules, water, rocks, plants, animals and the nitrogen, oxygen and other gases of the atmosphere.
Proposed by British scientist James Lovelock in 1969 as the Gaia Hypothesis, this depiction of the Earth as a self regulating system at the most basic level, up to the more radical view of the Earth as a living organism, has captured the imagination and intrigue of many. Gaia Theory offers an unprecedented view of the Earth as a whole system. That life works in concert with rocks, water and air to organize conditions conducive for life is a radically new way of understanding the world in which we live.
Humans have recently entered the Earth community (2 million or so years ago) and have more recently become an influential part of the Gaian system. Hugely successful, particularly over the last few hundred years, humans have risen to powers that are on a par with anything else on Earth. We can alter the chemical composition of the sky, divert the rivers of the world, pump oil and water from beneath the surface, eliminate other species, and completely transform the landscape of a region.
This newly founded power has both its positive and negative aspects. Look around you and marvel at the cities, the cars, the airplanes, the supermarkets, the hydroelectric and coal power plants, the homes, landscapes, parks and golf courses. Reflect for a moment on the miracles of modern medicine and its capacity to heal and extend our lives. It’s really something! Just imagine bringing someone from another century into the present time.
Yet, in the midst of this progress and human advancement is the startling realization that we have over extended ourselves. We now discover that our ambitious human agenda is so big and powerful that we are exerting overriding pressures on the rest of the Gaian economy. Can we continue to do that and remain prosperous into the future?
Gaia Theory gives us one way in which to gauge our activities. If the temperature and chemistry of Earth has been balanced for billions of years by non humans, i.e. the cells, molecules, plants, animals, rocks, water and air, maybe we need to seriously consider joining the game as opposed to thinking of ourselves as independent and autonomous entities. If not, our hubris and arrogance may lead us down a path of self-destruction.