Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

By James Lovelock | Go to book overview

2 In the beginning

In scientific usage, an aeon represents 1,000 million years. So far as we can tell from the record of the rocks and from measurements of their radioactivity, the Earth began its existence as a separate body in space about 4,500 million years, or four and a half aeons, ago. The earliest traces of life so far identified are to be found in sedimentary rocks formed more than three aeons ago. However, as H. G. Wells put it, the record of the rocks is no more a complete record of life in the past than the books of a bank are a record of the existence of everybody in the neighbourhood. Untold millions of early life-forms and their more complex but still softbodied descendants may have lived and flourished and passed away without putting anything by for the future, or--to change the simile--without leaving any traces, let alone skeletons for the geological cupboard.

It is not surprising, therefore, that little is known about the origin of life on our planet and still less about the course of its early evolution. But if we review what we know concerning the Earth's beginnings in the context of the universe from which it was formed, we can at least make intelligent guesses about the environment in which life, and potentially Gaia, began, and set about ensuring their mutual survival.

We know, from observations of events in our own galaxy, that the stellar universe resembles a living population, in which at any time may be found people of all ages from infants to centenarians. As old stars, like old soldiers, fade away, while others expire more spectacularly in an explosive blaze of glory, fresh incandescent globes with their satellite moths are taking shape. When we examine spectroscopically the interstellar dust and gas clouds from which new suns

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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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