The Dark Side of Gaia

I was reminded tonight of the Gaia hypothesis. It was quite a thing in the 1970s.

The Gaia hypothesis, named after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, posits that Earth and its biological systems behave as a huge single entity. This entity has closely controlled self-regulatory negative feedback loops that keep the conditions on the planet within boundaries that are favorable to life. Introduced in the early 1970s, the idea was conceived by chemist and inventor James E. Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis.

This had a natural appeal in the early days of the environmental movement. I was skeptical back then, thinking of it as new age wishful thinking, and impossible to test. I was wrong: Its origins are far darker. Here is the abstract of Gas Guzzling Gaia, or: A Prehistory of Climate Change Denialism:

This article tells the story of the oil and gas origins of the Gaia hypothesis, the theory that the Earth is a homeostatic system. It shows how Gaia’s key assumption—that the climate is a fundamentally stable system, able to withstand perturbations—emerged as a result of a collaboration between the theory’s progenitor, James Lovelock, and Royal Dutch Shell in response to Shell’s concerns about the effects of its products on the climate. The article explains how Lovelock elaborated the Gaia hypothesis and gave it evidential depth through a series of Royal Dutch Shell-funded research projects meant to identify organisms whose biological activities might double as climate-regulating mechanisms. The article goes on to show how this research subsequently laid the foundation for a distinct genre of climate change denialism, in which corporations sowed doubt not by denying the phenomenon of global warming but by naturalizing it.

(The full text is also available at the U. of C. site.)

See also this Twitter thread..

It seems I was also wrong about another point. The hypothesis can be and has been tested, and falsified. Gaia has shown no response to counter the rise of global temperatures due to anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide.

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