Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

By James Lovelock | Go to book overview

Preface

Twenty years ago when I first started writing this book I had no clear idea of what Gaia was, nor had I thought deeply about her. What I did know was that the Earth was different from Mars and Venus. It was a planet with apparently the strange property of always keeping itself a fit and comfortable place for living things to inhabit. I had the idea that somehow this property was not an accident of its position in the solar system but was a consequence of life on its surface. The word Gaia came from my friend and near neighbour, the novelist William Golding. He thought that such an idea should be named Gaia after the Greek goddess of the Earth.

In those days of the early 1970s we were still innocent about the environment. Rachel Carson had given us cause to worry, farmers were destroying the pleasant countryside we knew by the over use of chemicals. But it all still seemed all right. The membership of Friends of the Earth and of Greenpeace were yet to join. For most of them the main concern then was not the Earth but the destruction of people and of civilization by nuclear war between the superpowers. Global change, biodiversity, the ozone layer, and acid rain all were ideas barely visible in science itself, still less of public concern.

This book is the story of Gaia, about getting to know her without understanding what she is. Now twenty years on, I know her better and see that in this first book I made mistakes. Some were serious, such as the idea that the Earth was kept comfortable by and for its inhabitants, the living organisms. I failed to make clear that it was not life that did the regulating but the whole thing, life, the air, the oceans, and the rocks. The entire surface of the Earth including life is a superorganism and this is what I mean by Gaia. I was also foolish to suggest that we could warm the Earth in the event of an imminent ice-age by deliberately releasing chlorofluorocarbons into the air, exploiting their potent greenhouse effect to keep us warm. In those days of innocence the technological fix was respectable. I have not altered the original text to correct any of these mistakes. The story is

-vii-

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Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Gaia - A New Look at Life on Earth i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introductory 1
  • 2 - In the Beginning 12
  • 3 - The Recognition of Gaia 30
  • 4 - Cybernetics 44
  • 5 - The Contemporary Atmosphere 59
  • 6 - The Sea 78
  • 7 - Gaia and Man: The Problem of Pollution 100
  • 8 - Living Within Gaia 115
  • 9 - Epilogue 133
  • Definitions and Explanations of Terms 143
  • Further Reading 147
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