James Lovelock: The grand man who reminded us of Gaia

As with Bhumi in Hindu mythology, so in Greek mythology, Gaia is the personification of the only planet we are intimately familiar with: Earth. But to give her a second lease of life as a theory of planetary functioning, we owe James Lovelock. The researcher in medicine, who passed away on Tuesday at 103, proposed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s – which proposed Earth as a complex, self-regulating system where living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings to form a synergy called Life. Lovelock, along with evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, came up with a theory that seemed guilty of committing a ‘pathetic fallacy’ – attributing human characteristics to non-human entities. And, yet…

…Here we stand today, coming around to a version of Gaia that sees Earth as a composite entity made not just of humans or living things, but also ‘phenomena’ and ‘ecosystems’ that have been under attack. It would be not so dramatic to now consider Lovelock’s fundamental model of a planet reacting, even defending, to man-made hostile action in the form of extreme climate conditions. What the Gaia model proposed, decades before climate action became ‘a thing’, was giving importance to the interplay between all the things that make Earth.


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