Are we prepared for whatever’s coming?


Just as in 1939 we had to give up on a massive scale the comfortable lifestyle of peacetime, so soon we may feel rich with only a quarter of what we consume now. If we do it right and with enthusiasm, it will not seem a depressing phase of denial but instead, as in 1940, a chance to redeem ourselves. For the young, life will be full of opportunities to serve, to create, and they will have a purpose for living.

– James Lovelock from The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning

If people know anything about the British scientist James Lovelock, it is his theory of a living Earth, known as Gaia. Lovelock began formulating this revolutionary vision in the late 1960s while working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It was there, not far from the ground zero of West Coast counterculture, that he began to wonder: Might the Earth possess a sophisticated planetary intelligence, one that regulates the countless interactions of plants, animals, minerals, gases and the sun’s heat (all of the ingredients and products of ever-evolving life) in such a way as to maintain a climate homeostasis amenable to a lush, living planet? In short, does Mother Earth like life, and does she do her best to make us comfortable?

Once regarded as a quasi-mystical expression of longing more than a science-based insight, Lovelock’s theory has overcome the skepticism of his peers. Over the course of four decades of research and experiment, Gaia has officially graduated from a hypothesis to a theory. It is now widely accepted that the biosphere’s elements are no passive collection of independent actors responding to conditions but together form a living web that actively creates and maintains those conditions, including temperature. Lovelock has been compared to Copernicus and Darwin for fathering and nurturing the Gaia paradigm.

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