The Gaia Hypothesis

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
The Earth works as a system and everything has its own role.  Dr. Hugh Malafry explains how man is not living up to its role and duty.

Science traditionally has held to the attitude that natural
organisms are a product of the environment: those fit to
survive, survive — and those unfit, parish. “Ecology”
is usually referred to as the relationship which exists
between natural organisms and their environment, with the
influence of the environment predominating.

Recently, however, a British scientist — James
Lovelock — has made a rather radical proposal which he
calls the “Gaia hypothesis” (after the Greek. goddess of
the earth). His suggestion is that the theory of evolution
as we understand it is a complete reversal of what actually
occurs in that we attribute the weight of influence to
environment rather than to the living organism.

The germ of Lovelock’s theory comes from observations made
of outer space photographs of the planet, in which the
earth’s mantle of atmosphere  –drawn about her like a
cloak — suggested to him a protective modification of
the environment (such as a snail might find in its shell).

“If all the life organisms on earth are subtly
interrelated,” he reasoned, “is it not possible that it is,
in fact, one organism — one Life? And
is it not possible that Life has in large measure shaped
the environment of the earth to Its requirements, rather
than being primarily a product of environmental
circumstance?”

Life on earth, Lovelock feels, clearly exhibits the
characteristic of being a single organism with man in the
midst. And man, because of his nature, should be capable of
functioning something like a central nervous system to the
whole, thereby enhancing its development. Man, however, has
failed in this responsibility and, instead, proceeds
willy-nilly to alter the environment without regard for the
greater organism he centers. He alters the environment on
impulse — an impulse which disregards the Life of the
Whole.

Lovelock suggests that Life began to shape Its expression
on earth many millions of years ago. It did this by
creating the atmosphere we now know from random gases
and for the purpose of developing a suitably
protective mantle that would allow the more delicate
expressions of the larger organism to emerge. Life,
then — human beings notwithstanding — is,
significantly, intelligent and has direction.

Interestingly enough, the scientific community is finding
that many supposed anomalies are explained by Lovelock’s
hypothesis. According to the laws of chemistry, for
instance, most of the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere
should have ended up in the seas as nitrate ions long ago.
Biological factors, however, do not permit this. Rather,
they modify the chemical process to the advantage of the
living organism.

They use the process to continuously refresh the
atmosphere.

Lovelock — whose work on industrial pollution is
supported by numerous large corporations — indicates
that the health of the one earth organism is deteriorating
rapidly. He cites, for example, that an immense danger is
emerging from the practices of modern agriculture. A
greater danger to Life, in fact, is developing in this area
of man’s activities than in all the other
pollution-producing activities of industrial technology put
together.

Man’s efforts to feed his proliferating population have
resulted in “modern” farming techniques and the wholesale
use of inorganic methods. Techniques and methods that
disrupt the balance of the whole organism and which have
begun to destroy delicately balanced ecological systems
within the organism. And Gaia needs these systems (such as
the previously mentioned atmosphere which, when properly
maintained, supplies the oxygen we need, filters out the
sun’s dangerous cosmic rays and keeps them from harming us,
etc.).

Constantly urged on by his nature to ignorant,
self-centered manipulation of the natural environment, man
is rather like a radically disruptive central nervous
system to the whole — inaccurate in his perceptions and
destructive in his compulsive modifications. Not only has
man reneged on his true responsibilities as an integral
part of the living organism but he has also injected
into the whole patterns of behavior which disrupt and
destroy the natural unconscious functions of the organism.
Man has become rather a malignant cancer in the body of
Life.

Man prides himself on his intelligence, perception, vision,
and the gift of reason. He sets himself proudly aside as
the one creature with the capacity for self-consciousness
that Life has brought forth on this earth. Yet to what
purpose has this “self-consciousness” of the whole organism
(which comes to focus in man) been put, other than to
the self-centered, blind satisfaction of human greed as man
exploits the organism for his own use in much the same way
as an individual might abuse his body to satisfy some
incomprehensible and irrational craving.

A simple truth of Life on earth is that the whole survives
or nothing does, just as the survival of the body is
essential to the survival of the mind. Rather than
justifying human function as it has been known on earth,
man is well overdue for a dose of humility and a move
toward picking up his responsibilities. The
responsibilities of functioning as an integral, sensitive,
and intelligent part of the natural organism of this earth — and of letting his gift for self-consciousness be
exercised to the blessing of the whole creation of Life.