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Gaia Theory: Model and Metaphor for the 21st Century

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The Gaia Paradigm

While reading on about the science of Gaia Theory – below and throughout this website – consider the term “Gaia Paradigm.” This phrase refers to the confluence of the best available scientific understanding of Earth as a living system with cultural understandings of human society as a seamless continuum of that system. The “Gaia Paradigm” employs the powerful metaphor of “Gaia” to take the perspective of human beings as part of a living system. This encourages us to explore scientific insights from scientists that have been associated with “Gaia Theory” and from those who identify themselves as researchers in “Earth system science” or other disciplines. The “Gaia Paradigm” is a context in which our society’s “cultural narrative” can best reflect and incorporate these scientific realities.

What is Gaia Theory?

Pick up a newspaper or listen to the news and you’ll quickly see that our understanding of the Earth and our relationship to it has never mattered more. The Gaia Theory offers insights into climate change, energy, health, agriculture, and other issues of great, if not urgent, importance.

Overall, the Gaia Theory is a compelling new way of understanding life on our planet. It argues that we are far more than just the “Third Rock from the Sun,” situated precariously between freezing and burning up. The theory asserts that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together as a single living system that greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth’s surface. Some scientists believe that this “Gaian system” self-regulates global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors in an “automatic” manner. Earth’s living system appears to keep conditions on our planet just right for life to persist! The Gaia Theory has already inspired ideas and practical applications for economic systems, policy, scientific inquiry, and other valuable work. The future holds more of the same.

Understanding Gaia Theory

The Gaia Theory posits that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.” In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc. So, for instance, even though the luminosity of the sun – the Earth’s heat source – has increased by about 30 percent since life began almost four billion years ago, the living system has reacted as a whole to maintain temperatures at levels suitable for life.

The Gaia theory was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor, shortly after his work with NASA in determining that there was probably no life on Mars. His research led to profound new insights about life on Earth. The theory gained an early supporter in Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts. In the past 15-20 years, many of the mechanisms by which Earth self-regulates have been identified. As one example, it has been shown that cloud formation over the open ocean is almost entirely a function of the metabolism of oceanic algae that emit a large sulfur molecule (as a waste gas) that becomes the condensation nuclei for raindrops. Previously, it was thought that cloud formation over the ocean was a purely chemical/physical phenomenon. The cloud formation not only helps regulate Earth’s temperature, it is an important mechanism by which sulfur is returned to terrestrial ecosystems.

The Gaia Theory has inspired many leading figures of the past 20 years, including Vaclav Havel, John Todd (inventor), Freeman Dyson (physicist), Al Gore, Joseph Campbell (mythology expert), and Elisabet Sahtouris (microbiologist). These and many other people have written and spoken eloquently about how the Gaia Theory can help us model human activities after the living systems of our planet; the concept offers lessons for the design of economic, energy, social and governmental systems.


Martin Ogle on Gaia Theory

Soruce: http://www.gaiatheory.org/overview/

Earth Rights, Permaculture, Philosophy and Gaia Theory

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Dear friends of permaculture

A short news to let you know about the release of United Natures starring David Holmgren the co-originator of permaculture, along with his partner Su Dennett and their son Oliver. Also features Dr. Vandana Shiva, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Starhawk, Polly Higgins, Prof. Stuart Hill and others on the topics of earth rights, permaculture, philosophy and Gaia theory. Production supported by Permaculture Magazine.



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Technogaianism (a portmanteau word combining "techno-" for technology and "gaian" for Gaia philosophy) is a bright green environmentalist stance of active support for the research, development and use of emerging and future technologies to help restore Earth's environment. Technogaians argue that developing safe, clean, alternative technology should be an important goal of environmentalists.[1]


Clean techThis point of view is different from the default position of radical environmentalists and a common opinion that all technology necessarily degrades the environment, and that environmental restoration can therefore occur only with reduced reliance on technology. Technogaians argue that technology gets cleaner and more efficient with time. They would also point to such things as hydrogen fuel cells to demonstrate that developments do not have to come at the environment's expense. More directly, they argue that such things as nanotechnology and biotechnology can directly reverse environmental degradation. Molecular nanotechnology, for example, could convert garbage in landfills into useful materials and products, while biotechnology could lead to novel microbes that devour hazardous waste.[1]

While many environmentalists still contend that most technology is detrimental to the environment, technogaians point out that it has been in humanity's best interests to exploit the environment mercilessly until fairly recently. This sort of behaviour follows accurately to current understandings of evolutionary systems, in that when new factors (such as foreign species or mutant subspecies) are introduced into an ecosystem, they tend to maximise their own resource consumption until either, a) they reach an equilibrium beyond which they cannot continue unmitigated growth, or b) they become extinct. In these models, it is completely impossible for such a factor to totally destroy its host environment, though they may precipitate major ecological transformation before their ultimate eradication. Technogaians believe humanity has currently reached just such a threshold, and that the only way for human civilization to continue advancing is to accept the tenets of technogaianism and limit future exploitive exhaustion of natural resources and minimize further unsustainable development or face the widespread, ongoing mass extinction of species.[2] Furthermore, technogaians argue that only science and technology can help humanity be aware of, and possibly develop counter-measures for, risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth such as a possible impact event.[1]


Gaia RDI University Degree Programs

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Gaia RDI University Degree Programs

Gaia RDI Open Houses

Join us for an introduction to the Gaia RDI programs.

September 26, 4–5pm in at Commonweal Garden. You are welcome to join the Commonweal Garden Tour from 1–4pm prior to the Gaia RDI Open House.

Gaia RDI : Project Based, Self Directed, Action Learning

Are you ready to embark on a challenging adventure in which un-learning is possibly as important as learning?

Are you ready to put your passion, vision, and dreams to work in an active, productive way to meet both your own goals and the needs of the Earth?

If your heart sings when you imagine a more sustainable, just, and peaceful world, if you are ready to step forward to contribute your "grain of sand" to the emergence of this vision, then Gaia RDI can offer you the support you need to manifest your dreams.

Gaia RDI offers a unique approach to higher learning by offering you access to accredited bachelor's and master's degrees and graduate diplomas while you are actively engaged in self and planetary transformation. Linking your ideals with self-directed practical experience, you act as a world changer by working for local and global sustainability and regeneration, justice and peace.


Christian Theology and Gaia

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Hildegard von Bingen receiving illuminations from heaven... The godless do not know how to act, or how to renounce. They have neither purity nor truth. They do not understand the right principles ... They say that the universe is an accident with no purpose and no God ... that life is created by sexual union, a product of lust and nothing else. Thinking thus, these degraded souls, these enemies of mankind - whose intelligence is negligible and whose deeds are monstrous - come into the world only to destroy. -- Bhagavad Gita

It is important today that theologians and others should begin to look at the Bible afresh, and to reassess its message about humanity and our relationship with the planet. A fresh reading of biblical texts about the created world order, its conservation and restoration, and some reflections on the cultural context in which these themes occur, not only in the Bible but also in other religious texts from neighbouring cultures, can tell us much about Christianity's real ecological ethic ... When the Bible's teaching on God's Creation and our place in it is duly digested, I believe that it cries out to us: 'you are fellow-creatures of everything else in the Cosmos. You have no right to exploit or destroy, but you have duties to all, under God to whom you are responsible.' -- Father Robert Murray

Many people today are calling for modern religion, and specifically Christianity, to be re-imbedded in the cosmos, so that religion might become a real force in providing the ethical and spiritual energy for the critical task of reversing the degradation of the Earth. -- Vincent Rossi


Gaia: some implications for theoretical ecology

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Teddy GoldsmithIf we accept the Gaia Hypothesis, then modern reductionist and mechanistic ecology, as taught in our universities, can no longer be defended. However, rather than simply returning to the 'holistic' ecology of Clements and Shelford, a more sophisticated ecology must be developed to take account of the work of such holistic thinkers as C. H. Waddington, Paul Weiss, Ludwig Von Bertalanffy and others.

This paper was presented at the Wadebridge Ecological Centre's Conference: "Gaia: Theory, practice and implications", which took place at Camelford, Cornwall in October 1987. It was published in The Ecologist Vol. 18 No. 2/3, 1988.

Ecology, as an academic discipline, was developed towards the end of the last century. It came into being largely when a few biologists came to realise that the biological organisms and populations which they studied were not arranged at random but were, on the contrary, organised to form 'communities' or 'associations' whose structure and function could not be understood by examining their parts in isolation from each other. Both Frederick Clements and Victor Shelford, two of the most distinguished of the early ecologists in the USA, defined ecology as the "science of communities". [1]


The Gaia Hypotheses

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Dr Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis" has attracted much interest. The concept of the earth as a self-regulating "super-organism" is especially attractive to those who see in it a justification for "green" policies: from simple environmental preservation and waste control, all the way to "animal rights" and anti-technology green radicalism. But what exactly does it entail, and what are its true consequences?

When pressed by criticism, or simply by the desire for more respectability among hide-bound reductionists, Gaians often fall back to what one might call the "Weak Gaia Hypothesis": the non-controversial ideas that living systems modify their environment, and that complex ecosystems tend to be stable.

Emboldened by success with the Weak Hypothesis, proponents then proceed to the "Strong Gaia Hypothesis", as though this followed naturally. This proposes that the Earth is a super-organism, which in some mystical way regulates life and non-life for the benefit of the whole. A kind of planetary communism. The rocks, the germs, the worms, the men, all are here to live as one, in glorious equality and noble self-sacrifice.

Once this is accepted, grimmer extensions sprout. Mankind means nothing to Gaia, and we better behave lest she spit us out. Or even more extreme, not only does Gaia not care about us, but in the final analysis it doesn't really matter if we and all other life on the planet are exterminated. Gaia doesn't care about such trivial details as individual species (let alone individual people!), and in time she will rise again like a phoenix from her own ashes. All that matters is Gaia herself. I call this the "Gaia-With-Real-Muscles Hypothesis".

However, all the above are mere shadows of the true meaning and purpose of Gaia, which I now unveil to the world as the "Gaia-on-Steroids Hypothesis". While the Strong and Real-Muscles Hypotheses are important contributions to the Gaia paradigm, they are a mere shadows of the true meaning and purpose of Gaia, now revealed: a Grand Unified Theory of Gaia as it were. Consider the following:

  1. Over millions of years, Gaia has laid up vast amounts of coal, oil and gas reserves: a kind of planetary fat. In addition, Gaia has arranged for the convenient distribution of supplies of various fissionable elements.
  2. Despite Gaia's renowned self-regulation, we are told that atmospheric greenhouse gases have been rising steadily ever since the start of the industrial revolution. Yet, it has been estimated that termites alone annually produce ten times more greenhouse gases than present world industry ("Trashing the Planet", by D.L. Ray with L. Guzzo). Gaia seems unwilling to cope with the small excess we produce.
  3. Ideas for terraforming lifeless planets are being developed. Why? Any results would be so far in the future that there can be no conceivable benefit for their inventors.
  4. Even planets don't live forever. Any moment, Gaia might be sterilized by a nearby supernova or a massive meteorite impact. If not, the sun will eventually fry us. So like all living things, Gaia must die, and Gaia must reproduce.

It all makes perfect sense, when it is realized that human beings are the spores of Gaia. The only way for Gaia to reproduce is by producing intelligent life. By means of technological and industrial development, intelligent life can spread out through the galaxy, seeding dead planets with life so that ultimately they can develop into new Gaias.

Thus are the above points simply explained. Gaia laid down energy reserves to enable the industrial/scientific revolution to grow. Gaia's breeding urge generates our urge to move into space and to terraform other planets. Gaia's apparent failure to absorb our puny industrial wastes is not failure, but her message that she wants us to leave, to take her seeds into space.

Observe nature to learn the nature of Gaia. The mushroom grows silently in the ground for most of its life, then sprouts in brief magnificence to release millions of spores, and dies. A flower blooms, sets seed, and withers: "The flower that once has bloomed forever dies" (Omar Khayyam). A mother nurtures her young while they are helpless then chases them away when they mature, that they may spread her genes.

The message is clear. We must use the energy reserves laid up by Gaia for us. We must pillage the earth in order to most rapidly spread the seeds of life to the stars. To Gaia, the present diversity of species is no more important to her ultimate purpose than the anaerobes who were banished to the fringes when oxygen-based life arose. Indeed, it is our sacred duty to do whatever we must to disperse life, however much we might love trees and small furry animals. Gaia herself demands it!



James Lovelock, Gaia's grand old man

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James LovelockJames Lovelock is an independent atmospheric scientist who lives and works deep in the English countryside. He has a knack for making discoveries of global significance. Lovelock is the inventor of the electron capture detector, a palm-size chamber that detects man-made chemicals in minute concentrations. In the late 1950s, his detector was used to demonstrate that pesticide residues were present in virtually all species on Earth, from penguins in Antarctica to mother's milk in the United States. This provided the hard data for Rachel Carson's landmark 1962 environmental book, "The Silent Spring" which launched the international campaign to ban the pesticide DDT.

In the late 1960s, Lovelock sailed from Britain to Antarctica and with his detector discovered the ubiquitous presence of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), man-made gases now known to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer.

Today, Lovelock is best known as author of the "Gaia hypothesis," named after Gaea, Greek goddess of earth. The hypothesis states that the global ecosystem sustains and regulates itself like a biological organism rather than an inanimate entity run by the automatic and accidental processes of geology, as traditional earth science holds. In essence, Lovelock's hypothesis sees the surface of the Earth as more like a living body than a rock or a machine.

He first conceived the Gaia hypothesis while working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in the mid-1960s, where he was designing life detection instruments for NASA's Mars Viking probes.

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