Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Revenge of Gaia

Sounds pretty scary eh?
It's actually the name of a book by James Lovelock; a British inventor, independent scientist, environmentalist (to put it lightly) and futurologist.

I honestly bought the book for the ridiculously awesome title, the look (what can I say, I'm a superficial book snob) and an extra bonus- the theoretical premise. Ah, ok, the premise was kinda essential.

Sadly the writing is not that fantastic- it's wordy, very defensive and a bit over the top with analogies. It really feels like I'm reading a spoken transcription of some random conversation-monologue he may have had. I can actually *hear* his British accent while reading. It's a bit creepy to have an old British man in my head.

Besides that, the actual 'Gaia Theory' is mind boggling and perfect. If that makes sense.

James Lovelock, with the support of the IPCC, has formulated a theory of how our Earth works. Essentially, instead of viewing our planet as a non-reactive, material based object in which living things use in a one-way relationship, the Earth is a reactive, dynamic 'organism' which influences the carbon based life forms just as they influence it.

The Earth has a system and essentially self-regulates for optimal living environment and has been keeping it this way specifically for billions of years. He even goes on to postulate that an Earth System completes a Darwinian approach to evolution: Life forms are selected not only for their ability to survive, but interact directly with their material world and are influenced in an evolutionary sense by it.

If that sounds confusing, it's because I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around it.

Despite my personal mental space for this theory, viewing our world as a system that influences each part dynamically as a whole has always been commonsensical. Our world is filled with so many unknowns. Why would we even begin to think that by understanding one portion in isolation of it's climate, it's resources, it's surroundings and the way they influence each other would accurately reflect natural functioning is ludicrous.

In one of his recent books, A Sacred Balance, David Suzuki discusses how everything is interconnected (not quite at the macro level as the Gaia Theory) in a much more eloquent manner. Examples ranging how our Red Wood forests actually depend on salmon spawnings each year to survive... how our ocean algae affects our land animals and crops. 

James Lovelock, with the Gaia Theory, takes it a step further to draw connections between geology, climate and atmosphere with the living organisms. Although we know that climate affects living things, I never thought about how an animal or plant may be essential for our Planet.

Mr. Lovelock actually believes that it is too late to save our planet from becoming devoid of life in any form. Those limits that are thrown around by the IPCC, the carbon limits in the atmosphere? Yep, he believes that we've surpassed the point of no return. The book, if nothing else, is a strong message that we need to do something extreme and immediately.

Now if only I can get past the fourth chapter....


article copyright of EcoYogini at



  1. sounds interesting, i'll look for it.

    i don't like old british men ranting in my head either.

  2. I do wonder what to do with the doomsday talk that Lovelock has (he's been saying this for awhile, long before this book) and others writing about the state of the planet. I sometimes wonder if these kinds of arguments just allow folks to maintain the apathy they already have. It also seems true that whenever a well known eco-writer, scientist, etc. makes wildly bold claims about the near future - like James Howard Knustler talking about the collapse of the entire American economy to the point where millions will be fighting for a bite to eat - it seems to give the anti-environmental propaganda machine some good material.

    What I find challenging about all of this is that Knustler might be right. Lovelock might be right. And yet, is being right always the best thing?

    I've been thinking a lot about how eco-theories and eco-writing is being done, and how much of a struggle it seems to be to move beyond preaching to the choir. The choir has gotten bigger over the years, and younger generations who have grown up with some base-level environmental concern as the norm, seem more receptive than baby boomers and their elders, who didn't grow up with similar messages.

    I guess I'm interested in framing. How to write and talk about these issues to people so that you aren't either creating/enhancing apathy and despair, or are sounding like a street preacher prophesizing the end of the world.

  3. @Everyday Goddess, if you read it, let me know what you think :)

    @Nathan: yep, I agree with you. I think there is a purpose to mobilize people... but too much does result in a bit of overwhelming feeling.

    at the same time, his Gaia Theory is pretty darn interesting.


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