What is the Gaia hypothesis and how did it help us understand that the Earth is “alive”
- BBC News World
For more than four decades it has been considered one of the most beautiful and criticized theories of ecology.
in the 1970s, James LovelockA British biologist proposed a risky hypothesis that caused scandal, admiration, and suspicion in equal proportions.
He said the Earth “was alive.”
Lovelock, who at the time worked for NASA and is considered a respected scientist, did not appeal to animistic assumptions or pagan beliefs.
Although he called her Hypothesis From Jayareferring to the primordial goddess in Greek mythology, Earth, based her assumptions on scientific models.
Through his research, he has developed a hypothetical ensemble that reflects the balance – and relationship – between living things and the rest of the planet.
The hypothesis, which future studies later turned into a theory, became popular in academies around the world and was the basis for understanding human action on climate.
And though it was called into question to the point of nausea, it also dedicated the name of its chief theorist, He passed away this week, the same day he turned 103.
Considered one of the most important biologists and engineers of the 20th century in the United Kingdom, Lovelock also made a special contribution by discovering that atmospheric concentrations of CFCs, the compounds used to cool refrigerators and toilets, could be measured. Air conditioners.
This would lead to the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer and the ban of CFCs in 1987.
He also created a device that is still used to help measure the spread of toxic man-made compounds in nature, which bolstered his theories about human action on the planet.
However, he is best known internationally for the hypothesis that began to see life on Earth as a system in which every living thing plays its part: Gaia.
From astronomy to ecology
Lovelock based his initial hypothesis on his scientific observations of Earth’s atmosphere and … Mars.
At the time, in the mid-1960s, he was working as part of NASA’s space exploration team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
As an expert on the chemical composition of two planets, Lovelock wondered why our atmosphere was so stable.
He considered that something, unlike Mars, must regulate heat, oxygen, nitrogen, and other essential components.
He wrote with the American microbiologist: “Life on the surface is what regulations should do” Lynn Margulieswho co-authored the Gaia study.
Lovelock and Margolis viewed all living things and their inorganic environment on Earth as tightly integrated to form a complex, unique and self-organizing system.
This, in turn, preserved the conditions for the development of life.
The research confirmed that “the climate and chemical composition of the Earth’s surface environment were organized in a steady state for living organisms (all living things)”.
Lovelock worked on his initial hypothesis for years and then retrieved models and data from other sciences to try to create a theory.
This is how the model called “Daisy World(On How Daisies Grow in a Fantasy World), which served to illustrate how Gaia works.
As he supposes, on an imaginary planet, similar in many respects to Earth, only tulips grow, with an abundance of nutrients and water.
But black and white daisies are vying for space.
Although both types of daisies grow best at the same temperature, black daisies absorb more heat than white ones. When the sun shines brighter, warming the planet, white daisies spread out and the planet cools down again.
Meanwhile, when the sun gets dark, black daisies spread out, warming the planet.
In this way, the competitive interactions between daisies provide a homeostasis mechanism for the planet as a whole.
in his book “global climate future“And the Martin Rice and Ann Henderson Sellers explain that this model provided an initial “mathematical framework” for understanding the self-regulation of life on Earth, and with it, Gaia made “the most ambitious environmental theory based on self-regulation.”
The theory’s popularity led to the fact that, less than a decade after it was revealed, scientists from all over the world gathered at the University of Massachusetts for the first conference on the Gaia hypothesis whose theme was: “Is the Earth a living being?
However, the hypothesis did not receive universal acclaim in the scientific world.
Many experts have questioned this over the years and it has become for Lovelock himself a work in progress for which he has developed new experiments and modifications over the years.
His main critics referred to a teleological component (it envisions a purpose or goal: the continuation of life) and in many of his assumptions regarding the balance between living things, It goes against the principles of natural selection.
It is also considered by many scholars to be so poorly supported or contradicted by the available evidence that some, such as Tyler Falk, have called it “optimistic thinking”.
Besides those still defending or skeptical of the theory, for many of his major contributions was also the place he gave humans within this system and how he presented us as one of the major threats to the Earth’s natural balance.
“We are playing a very dangerous game. In 2020, Lovelock told the BBC that we are directly involved in the main regulatory mechanisms of Gaia.
“The main reason why I’m not retiring is because I, like most of you, are deeply concerned about the potential for massive damage from climate change and the need to do something about it now,” he added.
You can now receive notifications from the BBC World. Download and activate the new version of our app so you don’t miss our best content.
“Bacon advocate. Certified creator. Twitteraholic. Tv junkie. Beer fanatic. Internet nerd. Passionate thinker. Reader.”