Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

By James Lovelock | Go to book overview

as it was and lets you see how the idea of Gaia developed, not only in science, but as part of thought on a wider scale. I never imagined in 1974 just how wide this might be.

When I started to write in 1974 in the unspoilt landscape of Western Ireland it was like moving into a house run by Gaia. Someone who made all her guests comfortable. I began more and more to see things through her eyes and slowly dropped off, like an old coat, my loyalty to the humanist Christian belief in the good of mankind as the only thing that mattered. I began to see ourselves as no more than part of a community of living things that unconsciously kept the Earth a comfortable home, that we humans have no special rights only obligations to the community of Gaia.

On 4 July 1994 the United States of America awarded the Liberty Medal to the Czech president, Václav Havel. In his speech of acceptance he took the theme, 'We are not alone nor for ourselves alone.' He recognized that the modern age has ended, the artificial world order of the past decades has collapsed and a new more just order has not yet emerged. He went on to say that we are now where classically modern solutions do not give a satisfactory response. We need to anchor the idea of human rights and freedoms in a different place and in a different way than has been done so far. Paradoxically, he said, inspiration for the renewal of this lost integrity can again be found in science. In a science that is new--post-modern--a science producing ideas that in a certain sense allow it to transcend its own limits. He gave two examples: first, the anthropic cosmological principle where science finds itself on the border with myth which returns us to an ancient idea, namely, that we are not just an accidental anomaly. Second, the Gaia theory in which all life and all the material parts of the Earth's surface make up a single system, a kind of mega-organism, a living planet. In Havel's words:

According to the Gaia Hypothesis, we are parts of a greater whole. Our destiny is not dependent merely on what we do for ourselves but also on what we do for Gaia as a whole. If we endanger her, she will dispense with us in the interests of a higher value--life itself.

The statesman Havel's acceptance that human rights are not enough is timely. Not only for ourselves as humans but also for Gaia. She was

-viii-

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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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