If we don’t act now, the ter­ri­ble irony is that our great grand­chil­dren will only know of ancient forests through pic­tures in books print­ed on the paper that con­tributed to their extinc­tion.” – Gra­ham Lester George, writer

First described by James Love­lock in 1979, the Gaia Prin­ci­ple describes the Earth as a sin­gle, liv­ing organ­ism, with all its bio­log­i­cal, geo­log­i­cal, chem­i­cal and hydro­log­i­cal process­es act­ing in con­cert, to reg­u­late the plan­et and ensure its sur­vival through an exquis­ite array of feed­back loops.

An exam­ple of a Gaia feed­back loop is the rela­tion­ship between plants and car­bon diox­ide. When car­bon diox­ide lev­els rise in the atmos­phere, plants are able to grow bet­ter and extract more car­bon diox­ide – there­by bal­anc­ing” the Earth as a com­plex system.

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The Gaia Prin­ci­ple” posits that the Earth is a sin­gle liv­ing organism

But some sci­en­tists crit­i­cise the Gaia Prin­ci­ple because it can’t be test­ed. They say it is impos­si­ble for sta­bil­is­ing” feed­back loops to evolve as described by Love­lock, and argue that the Earth is ever-changing.

Humans and oth­er liv­ing things all have a dynam­ic rela­tion­ship with their envi­ron­ment that shifts con­tin­u­ous­ly. Although there is an assump­tion that the Earth should return to a per­fect bal­ance”, and that humans are dis­rupt­ing this bal­ance, it is also true that cer­tain com­po­nents of the Earth sys­tem change over time. The Earth’s cli­mate, for exam­ple, has altered over the ages.

It was because of ever-chang­ing envi­ron­ments that humans evolved in Africa into what we are today, and it is rea­son­able to sug­gest that we will con­tin­ue to evolve and adapt based on our dynam­ic environment.

The Gaia the­o­ry, how­ev­er, reminds us that peo­ple are just one, very late, addi­tion, to a com­plex glob­al Earth sys­tem and that our actions have some­times far-reach­ing impacts. Many dis­as­ters, includ­ing those trig­gered by nat­ur­al events, for instance, are often exac­er­bat­ed by human activity.

The 2004 tsunamis, for exam­ple, were arguably more dev­as­tat­ing in parts of south-east Asia because the man­grove swamps, which may have helped to lessen their impact, had been cleared for tourism devel­op­ment. If we do not man­age our eco-sys­tem effec­tive­ly, we can wors­en our liv­ing con­di­tions and the impact of chang­ing environments.

Return to the Exhi­bi­tion Guide.