The Greeks had a place and a story for everything in the world. Gaia, the Goddess of Earth, was in charge of all. She created her husband, Uranus, the God of the Sky. She also, clever woman that she was – and is – created Pontus, the Sea. In early times, in all cultures, Gaia in one name or another—is in charge.
There were, of course, many invasions of the system she commanded. Men learned early to throw bombs of fire and bring hills and mountains to their knees. We needed a new tomb for the great so we dug into her innards. We wanted to conquer our foes, so we threw fire at them and ravished their lands.
We got waylaid after a while. Soon, we knew how to destroy Every Thing and some of us heard Gaia groan. We had created devices that could kill all of Gaia and her husbands. Robert Oppenheimer, “Father of the Bomb” quoted the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” 1 As our relationship with Gaia grew grimmer and grimmer, a chemistry professor named James Lovelock and a microbiology professor named Lynn Margulis took a more intimate look at our world.
They began to study, separately and together, how plants and animal life, especially life on the smallest levels, respond to changes in climate, in water salinity and other factors. They worked on the “interconnectedness of life” and Lovelock called the phenomenon The Gaia Hypothesis. Immediately there was rage among many foes. John Postgate, fellow of the English Royal Society was furious about the attention given Lovelock’s theory: “When Lovelock introduced it in 1972, Gaia was an amusing, fanciful name for a familiar concept; today he would have it be a theory, one which tells us that the Earth is a living organism. Will tomorrow bring hordes of militant Gaia activists enforcing some pseudoscientific idiocy on the community, crying ‘There is no God but Gaia and Lovelock is her prophet?’” 2
With this kind of howling in his ear, Lovelock changed his term to the Gaia Theory and in 2001, a thousand scientists at the European Geophysical Union meeting signed the Declaration of Amsterdam, starting with the statement “The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological, and human components.” 3
Lovelock could probably not have gotten as far as he did without the friendship and trenchant exploration of microbiologist Dr. Lynn Margulis. Margulis aided Lovelock in the effort of fleshing out how microbes affect the atmosphere and the different layers in the surface of the Planet. 4 The term “interconnectedness of all things” began to have proof even the narrowest scientific mind could understand.
Margulis was not so worried about the Earth as Lovelock was though they continue to support each other’s scientific work. Margulis was a soothsayer of a slightly different sort. She articulated her science in almost Old Testament terms: “Possibly here in the Holocene, of just before ten or twenty thousand years ago, life hit a peak of diversity. Then we appeared. We are the great meteorite.” 5 Gaia is an organism made up of all organisms within it. And what alters one, may very well alter many, many others, if not all.
We humans may suffer as the earth adjusts and we do not. Before she died, Margulis made one of her best and most trenchant statements.
“The notion of saving the planet has nothing to do with intellectual honesty or science. The fact is that the planet was here long before us and will be here long after us. The planet is running fine. What people are talking about is saving themselves and saving their middle class lifestyles and saving their cash flow.” 6
The next thing I do today is paste this quote on my wall.
- Lovelock, James (2000). Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-286218-9.
- Margulis, Lynn (1998). Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-81740-X.