Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

By James Lovelock | Go to book overview

5 The contemporary atmosphere

One of the blind spots in human perception has been an obsession with antecedents. Only a hundred years ago that otherwise intelligent and sensitive man, Henry Mayhew, was writing of the poor of London as if they were an alien race. How else could they have been so different from him, he thought. In the Victorian age, almost the same significance was attached to one's family and social background as is now given in some places to one's IQ score. Today, when we hear people extolling breeding and pedigree, they are most likely to be farmers and stock breeders or members of the Jockey or Kennel Clubs.

Yet even now, when interviewing a candidate for a job, we are inclined to attach too much weight to the school and university background and to the academic record. We would rather accept this evidence than take the more difficult step of trying to find out for ourselves what the applicant is really like and what is the potential. Until a few years ago, most of us took a similarly blinkered view of our planet. Attention was focused on its distant past. Textbooks and papers in profusion were written about the record of the rocks and life in the primeval seas, and we tended to accept this backward view as telling us all we needed to know about the Earth's properties and potential. It was nearly as bad as trying to assess our job applicant by examining his great-grandfather's bones.

Thanks to what we have learned, and are still learning, about our planet from space research, the whole picture has recently changed. We have had a moon's-eye view of our home in space as it orbits the sun, and we are suddenly aware of being citizens of no mean planet, however mean and squalid the human contribution to this panorama may be in close-up. Whatever happened in the distant past, we are

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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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