Gaia Theory or Earth Systems Science, shows how all living beings in the biosphere are interconnected, keeping the planet in balance as if it were one living organism.
Gaia Theory was first presented in the 1970s by scientist James Lovelock while working for the US space programme. He was asked to design experiments to detect life on Mars.
Martian soil showed no life when tested – but Lovelock had predicted this by analysing the atmosphere of Mars: it is in a dead equilibrium. By contrast, the atmosphere of Earth is in a “far from equilibrium” state showing there is complex process going on within.
2.8 bn years ago bacteria and photosynthetic algae began extracting carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere and releasing oxygen, optimising conditions for larger and more energetic creatures powered by combustion, including, ultimately, ourselves.
The notion of Gaia – in which the earth and the living things on it form a single, self-maintaining living system – is far richer and subtler than often assumed. It is a unifying concept, a new map of the world that enables us to grasp a whole web of connections that earlier concepts did not reveal. Because of its many-sidedness, and indeed because it is so revolutionary, Gaia Theory still has not been properly understood. According to this principle everything we do affects the whole.
All the life forms of the planet are part of Gaia, similar to the myriad different cell colonies that make up our organs and bodies, the life forms of earth in their diversity co-evolve and contribute interactively to produce and sustain the optimal conditions for the growth and prosperity not only of themselves, but of the larger whole, Gaia.
This demands a shift in perspective, from seeing life-forms as competing individuals and groups adapting to the orbiting lump of rock on which they live, to seeing an integrated whole, where the air, rock, water and biota all interact in a complex dance that maintains all.
‘The temperature, oxidation, state, acidity, and certain aspects of the rocks and waters are kept constant, and this homeostasis is maintained by active feedback processes operated automatically and unconsciously by the biota.’
Even the shifting of the tectonic plates, resulting in the changing shapes of the continents, may result from the massive limestone deposits left in the earth by bio-forms eons ago.