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The hypothesis understands the earth as a “living organism”.
It has been considered one of the most beautiful (and most criticized) theories in ecology for more than four decades.
In the 1970s, British biologist James Lovelock put forward a hypothesis that caused scandal, admiration, and suspicion in equal measure.
He said the earth is alive.
Lovelock, who was then working for NASA (US space agency) and was considered a respected scientist, was not based on animistic beliefs.
And although he called it the Gaia hypothesis, referring to the primordial goddess of Greek mythology, he based his ideas on scientific paradigms.
With his research, he envisioned a system that would reflect the balance (and relationship) between living beings and the rest of the planet.
The hypothesis, which later became theory through study, became popular in universities around the world and was central to understanding human influence on climate.
And although it has been questioned to the point of exhaustion, it also established its main theorist. He died on July 26, the same day he turned 103.
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Lovelock died at the age of 103
Lovelock, considered one of the most important biologists of the 20th century in the United Kingdom, also made a significant contribution to his discovery that it was possible to measure the atmospheric concentration of chlorofluorocarbons, the compounds used to cool refrigerators and air conditioners became.
This led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1987 and the ban on chlorofluorocarbons.
He also created a device that is still used to measure the spread of toxic compounds created by humans in nature, cementing his theories about human action on the planet.
However, what made him best known internationally was his hypothesis, which began to see life on Earth as a system in which every living being played a role: Gaia.
From astronomy to ecology
Lovelock based his initial hypothesis on his scientific observation of the atmospheres of Earth and Mars.
At that time, in the 1960s, he was working on NASA’s space research team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
As an expert on the chemical composition of planets, Lovelock wondered why our atmosphere is so stable.
He believed that unlike Mars, heat, oxygen, nitrogen and other essential components of something must be regulated.
“The life on the surface must take over the regulation,” he wrote together with the American microbiologist Lynn Margulis, who coauthored his study of Gaia.
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Lovelock and Margulis found that organisms and their inorganic environment on Earth are tightly integrated to form a complex, unique, and selfregulating system.
This in turn was what maintained the conditions for the development of life.
“The climate and chemical composition of the Earth’s surface environment are and have been regulated in a stable state for the biota (the group of living organisms),” the study reads.
Lovelock worked on his original hypothesis for years and was soon turning to models and data from other sciences to try to create a theory.
So he developed the model called “Daisyworld” (about how daisies grow in an imaginary world), which served to illustrate how Gaia can work.
According to the theory, only daisies with an abundance of nutrients and water grow on an imaginary planet that is similar to Earth in many ways.
But white and black daisies compete for space.
Although both types of daisies grow best at the same temperature, black daisies absorb more heat than white ones. As the sun shines brighter and the planet warms, the white daisies spread and the planet cools again.
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Meanwhile, as the Sun’s luminosity decreases, the daisies expand, warming the planet.
In this way, the competing interactions between daisies provide a homeostatic mechanism for the planet as a whole.
In their book The Future of the World’s Climate, Martin Rice and Ann HendersonSellers explain that this model provided an initial “mathematical framework” for understanding the selfregulation of life on Earth, and that it propelled Gaia “to the most ambitious ecological theory based on selforganization.” .”
The theory’s fame led scientists from around the world to gather less than a decade after its unveiling at the University of Massachusetts for the first Gaia Hypothesis conference, whose theme was, “Is the Earth a Living Organism?”
However, the hypothesis did not receive a universal seal in the scientific universe.
Many researchers questioned this, prompting Lovelock to devise new experiments and modifications of the theory over the years.
Major critics claim that the idea that there is an equilibrium between organisms goes against the principles of natural selection. They also say that the theory has a teleological component (conceives an ending or goal: the continuation of life).
Many scientists still consider it to be illfounded or at odds with the available evidence, to the point that researcher Tyler Volk called it “optimistic thinking”.
But aside from the arguments for or against the theory, one of its innovations was the place it gave humans in that system and how it presents us as one of the main threats to the Earth’s natural balance.
“We’re playing a very dangerous game. We are directly intervening in Gaia’s key regulatory mechanisms,” Lovelock told the BBC in 2020.
“My main reason for not retiring is that, like most of you, I am deeply concerned about the likelihood of enormously damaging climate change and the need to do something about it now,” he added.
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