“What is in a name? I remember a conversation with a distinguished scientist keen to rubbish “all that Gaia nonsense”. When I protested and offered to rename it “geophysiology”, “earth systems science” or something similar, he brightened up and eventually confessed that “most of it must be right”. The choice of the Greek goddess Gaia rather than of some Greek-derived scientific polysyllable, or, worse, some acronym, was a risk. On the one hand it was just too attractive for those in search of a new religion at a time when traditional religions were breaking down; on the other it was just too repulsive for those who liked to hide their science in coded vocabulary. The result was that some New Age travellers jumped aboard, and some otherwise sensible scientists jumped off.
This is probably still the case. But as a theory, Gaia is now winning. The scientific communities of the four great international global change research programmes – the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the International Biodiversity Programme (Diversitas) – met at Amsterdam on 13 July 2001. They then adopted a Declaration on Global Change, signed by over a thousand people, which stated squarely that “the Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system, comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components. The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability.”
Here indeed is Gaia theory. The same goes for the earth systems science which is now the concern of the Geological Society of London (with which the Gaia Society recently merged). Whatever the label, earth systems science, or Gaia, has now become a major subject of enquiry and research, and no longer has to justify itself.
- From “Earth Systems Science: Are We Pushing Gaia Too Hard?” a speech by Sir Crispin Tickell in 2006.
“Lovelock insists that this view of the relationship between life and the nonliving elements of the earth system does not require a spiritual explanation; even so, it evokes a spiritual response in many of those who hear it. It cannot be accidental, one is tempted to conclude, that the percentage of salt in our bloodstreams is roughly the same as the percentage of salt in the oceans of the world. The long and intricate interrelationship of all living and nonliving things may be explicable in purely scientific terms, but the simple fact of the living world and our place on it evokes awe, wonder, a sense of mystery—a spiritual response—when one reflects on its deeper meaning.”
– From “Earth in the Balance” by Al Gore. 1992
“For my money, the deepest, most beautiful scientific explanation is the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that Earth’s physical and biological processes are inextricably interwoven to form a self-regulating system. This notion—the 1965 brainchild of chemist James Lovelock, further co-developed with microbiologist Lynn Margulis—proposes that air (atmosphere), water (hydrosphere), earth (geosphere or pedosphere) and life (biosphere) interact to form a single evolving system capable of maintaining environmental conditions consistent with life… .
“Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that this idea can help shift the human perception of nature. In the modernist perspective, the natural world is little more than a collection of virtually infinite resources available for human exploitation. The Gaian lens encourages us to re-envision Earth-bound nature as an intertwined, finite whole from which we evolved, and in which we remain fully embedded. Here, then, is a deep and beautiful perspective in desperate need of broad dissemination.”
- From 2012 Blog by Scott Sampson, written “in response to literary agent John Brockman’s annual question. This year’s question was, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?”