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Gaia and the dawn of Gaia 2.0?

A theory and a way of understanding the Earth and its interconnections: The Gaia Hypothesis. Learn more in this article.

Glynn Gorick Globe illustration of all interacting biomes and systems on Earth and representative species that live in them Illustration by Glynn Gorick showing the relative sizes of the worlds’ interconnected 8 biomes

A theory and a way of understanding the Earth and its interconnections: The Gaia Hypothesis

The Gaia hypothesis, proposed by James Lovelock and developed with Lynn Margulis, proposes that the Earth and the life it homes are interconnected, in a way that organisms interact with and influence their surroundings to create a self-regulating system that maintains habitable conditions for life on Earth. As we’ve explored in this course, influences between Earth and Life have been constantly interacting since the beginning of life; the beginning of Gaia. This has been in the form of the past, vast and small invisible worlds that work and communicate to the Earth system to maintain the life support system.

These influences are not linear, and are definitely not simple! Complex synergies operate at all scales on Earth, which all interact with each other to create a range feedbacks which can either amplify changes (positive feedback) or dampen a change (negative feedback).

Life, in all its forms, whilst influenced by climate and other conditions, also affects its planetary environment in a way that maintains and enhances habitability of the planet. As we’ve explored, this comes in the form of regulating oxygen concentrations, water quality and climate. Life has also responded and adapted to Earth system perturbations, innovating with new recycling systems to maintain and regulate an operational life support system.

“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: A New Look at Life on Earth, 1979.

Gaia and the Anthropocene

It is undeniable that the arrival and expansion of humans has altered conditions on Earth. So the question arises, how much will humans alter this self-regulating planet? Are we compromising the natural, efficient cycles that have been crafted by organisms preceding us, or are we altering the cycles to create a new habitable state? These questions bring great controversy to the scientific community, but we can all agree that if humans remain on the planet, the state of the Earth’s life support system will be different to how it was beforehand.

Professor Tim Lenton has argued we could be entering ‘Gaia 2.0’, whereby humans, as the only conscious species to be collectively aware of the changes we make to the Earth, are now starting to change our behaviour in response to that information. This brings a new kind of conscious feedback into Gaia. Revolutions and advances in science and technology have allowed us to sense more about Earth’s behaviour in real time, through its history and what it might do in the future. In this new age of data wealth and evidence-informed self awareness about the Earth, can we alter our future for the better?

Invisible worlds are central to Gaia, and will remain central to the future of this complex system. But which influence will humans have? Share your thoughts in the comments.

© Eden Project and University of Exeter
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Invisible Worlds: Understanding the Natural Environment

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