In the 1970s, British chemist James Lovelock and American biologist Lynn Margulis developed the Gaia hypothesis, which suggests every living thing on Earth exists within and contributes to a self-regulating system that allows habitable conditions to exist and has done since life first emerged 3.8 billion years ago. This idea that the world is taking care of us and allowing us to survive is both rooted in science and is intuitively appealing, however, the evidence does not stack up.
Lovelock made three arguments when proposing the idea of Gaia: (1) that Earth is an extremely favourable habitat for life; (2) that Earth’s environment has remained fairly stable over geological time (3) that life has greatly altered the planetary environment, including the chemical composition of the atmosphere and the sea; and A major review of the evidence around Gaia has shown that often, these arguments are flawed.
Earth is an extremely favourable habitat for life. As you look back through the geological record, there are plenty of times where conditions were not favourable for life- think of the ice ages, which are controlled not by the biosphere, but by the Milinkovic cycles, changes in how the Earth orbits the sun.
Earth’s environment has remained fairly stable over geological time. Evidence for major variability in temperature, sea level, ion concentration in the sea and atmosphere and numerous others all contradict this argument.
Life has greatly altered the planetary environment. Whilst this cannot be denied, life often influences conditions in a negative way. Positive feedback loops, the bad kind where adverse changes in turn cause more adverse changes. Take the albedo effect at the poles. This is where light coloured ice reflects sunlight and reduces the amount of heat absorbed by the Earth. However, as global warming increases surface temperatures, ice melts and dark green vegetation replaces it. This dark vegetation absorbs far more heat than the ice it replaced, causing further warming.
It is this third point that has become a talking point recently. Timothy Lenton and Bruno Latour believe that as humans have become aware of our actions and implications on the planet, we are creating a fundamental new state of Gaia; Gaia 2.0.
Cock van Oosterhout, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia said “If you take the human perspective into it you realise that the regulation of biogeochemical cycles and nutrient cycles can be manipulated and managed by humans,”. For this to occur however, humans need to be prepared to make positive changes, no matter how small, as each will contribute to maintenance of the kind of environment we want to live in.
One way to start to make that change is by choosing a green roof. Not only do they contribute to removing carbon dioxide from the environment, they also reduce storm water run-off, increase insulation to houses leading to lower heating requirements and can actually increase your quality of life. Studies have shown that green space increases recovery after surgery, promotes mental wellbeing and boosts productivity in the workplace, so why not consider a green roof in your house or office?
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