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The Gaia Theory: James Lovelock & Lynn Margulis
Text adapted from
Direct Pointing to Real Wealth: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Money


      As far as science can determine, life started on earth about 3.8 billion years ago. The fact that life started at all on this planet is certainly a miracle, yet it is equally miraculous that life has continued to survive. The sun has increased it's heat output by 25% in the natural course of it's own life-span, yet the temperature on earth has remained comparatively constant. Without the presence of life on earth, the oceans should have either frozen or boiled by now, or the water molecules should have broken apart and the lightweight hydrogen atoms escaped into space, taking with them any possibility of water on this planet. Even without freezing or boiling, the oceans should have become too salty to support life by now, given the amount of salts that wash off the continents each year.

Symbiotic Planet.       It appears that life on earth is somehow cooperating to modify and maintain the biosphere in a condition that is favorable for life, almost as the earth itself were alive. Of course the earth is not alive, and the effect is completely spontaneous--the result of billions of individual plants and animals simply attending to their living needs, yet collectively creating something so much greater.

      In the late 1960's two British scientists, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, put forth the Gaia Theory to propose that separate organisms could unconsciously modify the environment in a way that is favorable for life.

      The principle of the Gaia theory is simple. Life has modified and been modified by the biosphere, a process called coevolution. The organisms that survive and thrive on the planet are those that help maintain the biosphere in a way that is favorable for life.

Microcosmos.       An easy way to understand this concept is through an analogy that Lovelock calls "Daisy World". A hypothetical planet is colonized by black and white daisies. The black daisies absorb light as heat and warm the planet, while the white daisies reflect light and keep the planet cool. Too many black daisies cause the planet to overheat, making the world uncomfortable for them, but better for the white daisies. Too many white daisies cause the world to become too cold, thus favoring the black daisies that can absorb heat.

      The real biosphere is much more complex, with billions of independent life forms functioning as a spontaneous check-and-balance system to maintain the biosphere in a way that is comfortable for life as a whole. Plants, for instance, have pumped carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and buried the carbon in the form of calcium carbonate (limestone) on the ocean floors and in fossil fuels. This has reduced the greenhouse effect and kept the planet cool, even while the sun has become warmer. Likewise, moisture over the ocean forms around sulfur particles outgassed by marine algae, thus bringing much-needed sulfur to the land organisms while also controlling the amount of cloud cover over the planet.

      Bacterial colonies along the seashores coat salt crystals with a sort of varnish that inhibits the salt from dissolving back into the water. This helps to remove salt from the oceans, while the combined weight of the salt and limestone deposits on the continental shelves may help trigger plate tectonics--the movement of the continents across the globe. There is no detectable entity managing the globe, but each of the independent life forms on earth seems to contribute to the stability and success of the whole.

      Like the natural ecosystem, our economic ecosystem is diverse, highly complex, but still spontaneously organized. Without any one person or committee in charge you might expect that there would be resource shortages every day, yet our stores are virtually always filled with the items we want.

      The economic ecosystem is an artificial entity that we have created, and yet it almost has a life of it's own. Each of us affects and is affected by this ecosystem. Our simplest decisions and purchases cause subtle changes in the economy. The economy likewise affects our decisions, bringing us certain goods and services at certain prices, all of which are variable based on the current economic "climate". We created this economy, yet no one is in control of it, and like a living entity without dimension, no one knows exactly how to control it! The economic ecosystem is the result of millions of individuals each making decisions which they perceive will bring the greatest personal benefit.

The above text was adapted from Direct Pointing to Real Wealth: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Money


Books related to the Gaia Theory

Gaia : A New Look at Life on Earth by James E. Lovelock
Order from Amazon.com

Slanted Truths.

The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth by James E. Lovelock
Order from Amazon.com

Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution by Lynn Margulis
Order from Amazon.com

Symbiotic Planet : A New Look at Evolution by Lynn Margulis
October 1998. Hardcover.
Order from Amazon.com

Five Kindgoms.

Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan
Reprinted May 1997.
Order from Amazon.com

Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth
by Lynn Margulis, Stephen Jay Gould, Karlene V. Schwartz, Alexander R. Margulis
3rd Edition. January 1998.
Order from Amazon.com





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