Perspectives


“We live at a time when extraordinary learning resources are available for schools everywhere. We are on the threshold of a deeper planetary awareness, an emerging understanding of biosphere dynamics, a comprehensive “science of integration.” But none of this will occur without challenging the status quo of science education. We should be planning schools so as to train a Gaian generation of learners, students who see the biosphere in every habitat and organism, who are equipped to interpret environmental change, who are keen to observe the natural world, and who know that their very survival may depend on it.”

– From “Gaian Generation: A New Approach to Environmental Leaning” by Mitch Thomashow, in “Gaia in Turmoil.” 2009. Edited by Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker.


“The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them—cautiously—but not abolish them.The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

– From “A Sand County Almanac.” 1949. By Aldo Leopold


“Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.”

– From “The Lives of a Cell.” 1974. By Lewis Thomas


“It takes a membrane to make sense out of disorder in biology. You have to be able to catch energy and hold it, storing precisely the needed amount and releasing it in measured shares. A cell does this, and so do the organelles Inside. Each assemblage is poised in the flow of solar energy, tapping off energy from metabolic surrogates of the sun. To stay alive, you have to be able to hold out against equilibrium, maintain imbalance, bank against entropy, and you can only transact this business with membranes in our kind of world.“When the earth came alive it began constructing its own membrane, for the general purpose of editing the sun. Originally, in the time of prebiotic elaboration of peptides and nucleotides from inorganic ingredients in the water on the earth, there was nothing to shield out ultraviolet radiation except the water itself. The first thin atmosphere came entirely from the degassing of the earth as it cooled, and there was only a vanishingly small trace of oxygen in it.”

– From “The Lives of a Cell.” 1974. By Lewis Thomas


“Ecology as the basis for design is the framework of this new economic order. This approach needs to be combined with a view in which the earth is seen as a living entity—a Gaian worldview—and our obligations as humans are not just to ourselves but to all of life. Earth stewardship then becomes the larger framework within which ecological design and technologies exist. One day it may be possible for political and social systems to mirror the broad workings of nature, and current divisions of left versus right, centralist versus decentralist, expansionist versus steady state, bioregional versus nation-state will be transformed into a systemic Gaian world organization and order.”

– From “An Ecological Economic Order,” by John Todd in “Gaia: A Way of Knowing; Political Implications of the New Biology.” 1987. Edited by William Irwin Thompson.


“Recent forays into Gaia science have been boosted by continued space exploration: views of the entire globe from orbit in comparison with other planets greatly influence all of us: clearly life on the planet is some kind of interacting unity. If symbiosis is defined as the living together in protracted physical continuity of different kinds of organisms then, as Hinkle (1992) asserts, Gaia is simply symbiosis as seen from space.”

– From “God, Gaia and Biophilia” by Dorian Sagan and Lynn Margulis in “The Biophilia Hypothesis,” edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson.


“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available . . . an idea as powerful as any other in history will be let loose.”

– Sir Frederick Hoyle (British Astonomer), 1950


“The tale of Gaia’s dance is thus being retold as we piece together the scientific details of our planet’s dance of life. And in its context, the evolution of our own species takes on new meaning in relation to the whole. Once we truly grasp the scientific reality of our living planet and its physiology, our entire worldview and practice are bound to change profoundly, revealing the way to solving what now appear to be our greatest and most insoluble problems.”

– From “Gaia: The Human Journey from Chaos to Cosmos.” 1989. By Elisabet Sahtouris (reprinted in 1999 as “Earth Dance; Living Systems in Evolution.”).


“One hopeful sign of sanity in modern society is the popularity of the idea of Gaia, invented by James Lovelock to personify our living planet. Respect for Gaia is the beginning of wisdom…As humanity moves into the future and takes control of its evolution, our first priority must be to preserve our emotional bond to Gaia. This bond must be our pulley. If it stays intact, then our species will remain fundamentally sane. If Gaia Survives, then human complexity will survive too.”

– From “The Face of Gaia.” 1988. By Freeman Dyson. (Freeman Dyson is a prominent physicist and author).


CURWOOD: Leonardo, the quintessential—perhaps the definitional—renaissance man. In your book, Sir David, you quote something that he wrote around 1490 that shows that he was even formulating a Gaia hypothesis. Could you read from that for us please?

ATTENBOROUGH: Well, Leonardo wrote: ‘Just as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, so this body of the earth is similar. Whereas man has bones within himself, the supports and frameworks of the flesh, the world has rocks, the supports of the earth. If man has within him the lake of blood wherein the lungs expand and contract in breathing, the body of Earth has its ocean, which also expands and contracts every six hours with the breathing of the world. As from the said lake of blood arise the veins, which spread their branches through the human body. Likewise, the ocean fills the body of the earth with an infinite number of veins of water.’

CURWOOD: So indeed, a vision that the earth is an organism—the Gaia hypothesis—just like a human. And we get this from Leonardo da Vinci in 1490.

ATTENBOROUGH: That’s correct.

– From 2007 Interview with David Attenborough by Steve Curwood.


“For my money, the deepest, most beautiful scientific explanation is the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that Earth’s physical and biological processes are inextricably interwoven to form a self-regulating system. This notion—the 1965 brainchild of chemist James Lovelock, further co-developed with microbiologist Lynn Margulis—proposes that air (atmosphere), water (hydrosphere), earth (geosphere or pedosphere) and life (biosphere) interact to form a single evolving system capable of maintaining environmental conditions consistent with life. . . .

“Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that this idea can help shift the human perception of nature. In the modernist perspective, the natural world is little more than a collection of virtually infinite resources available for human exploitation. The Gaian lens encourages us to re-envision Earth-bound nature as an intertwined, finite whole from which we evolved, and in which we remain fully embedded. Here, then, is a deep and beautiful perspective in desperate need of broad dissemination.”

– From 2012 Blog by Scott Sampson, written “in response to literary agent John Brockman’s annual question. This year’s question was, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?”


“Evolution is no linear family tree, but change in the single multidimensional being that has grown to cover the entire surface of Earth.”

– From “What is Life?” 1995. By Lynn Margulis

“I am trying to save the knowledge that the forest and this planet are alive, to give it back to you who have lost the understanding.”

– Excerpt from conversation with Paiankan, a contemporary Kayapo Indian leader (Amazonia). From “Wisdom of the Elders; Honoring Sacred Native Visions of Nature.” 1992. By David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson.


Bill Moyers: Scientists are beginning to talk quite openly about the Gaia principle.

Joseph Campbell: There you are, the whole planet as an organism.

Bill Moyers: Mother Earth. Will new myths come from this image?

Joseph Campbell: Well, something might. You can’t predict what a myth is going to be any more than you can predict what you’re going to dream tonight. Myths and dreams come from the same place. They come from the realizations of some kind that have then to find expression in symbolic form. And the only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody on it. That’s my main thought for what the future myth is going to be. And what it will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have deal with — the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate to this society and how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos. That’s what the myths have all talked about, and what this one’s got to talk about. But the society that it’s got to talk about is the society of the planet. And until that gets going, you don’t have anything.

Bill Moyers: So you suggest that from this begins the new myth of our time?

Joseph Campbell: Yes, this is the ground of what the myth is to be. It’s already here: the eye of reason, not one of nationality; the eye of reason, not of my religious community; the eye of reason, not of my linguistic community. Do you see? And this would be the philosophy for the planet, not for this group, that group, or the other group. When you see the earth from the moon, you don’t see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come. That is the country that we are going to be celebrating. And those are the people that we are one with.”

– From “The Power of Myth.” 1988. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. (Based on interviews of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers. Campbell was recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on mythology).

“Lovelock insists that this view of the relationship between life and the nonliving elements of the earth system does not require a spiritual explanation; even so, it evokes a spiritual response in many of those who hear it. It cannot be accidental, one is tempted to conclude, that the percentage of salt in our bloodstreams is roughly the same as the percentage of salt in the oceans of the world. The long and intricate interrelationship of all living and nonliving things may be explicable in purely scientific terms, but the simple fact of the living world and our place on it evokes awe, wonder, a sense of mystery—a spiritual response—when one reflects on its deeper meaning.”

– From “Earth in the Balance” by Al Gore. 1992


“The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order. Yet, I think it must be anchored in a different place, and in a different way, than has been the case so far. . . .

“Paradoxically, inspiration for the renewal of this lost integrity can once again be found in science, in a science that is new – let us say postmodern – a science producing ideas that in a certain sense allow it to transcend its own limits. I will give two examples:[Havel listed as his first example, the “anthropic principle” – the idea that human beings are deeply and intricately connected to the entire universe. This principle, he said, brings scientific inquiry to its limits – at the border between science and mythology – and, in so doing, brings science back to a human scale.”]

“The second example is the Gaia Hypothesis. This theory brings together proof that the dense network of mutual interactions between the organic and inorganic portions of the earth’s surface form a single system, a kind of mega-organism, a living planet – Gaia – named after an ancient goddess who is recognizable as an archetype of the Earth Mother in perhaps all religions . . .

“What makes the Anthropic Principle and the Gaia Hypothesis so inspiring? One simple thing: Both remind us, in modern language, of what we have long suspected, of what we have long projected into our forgotten myths and perhaps what has always lain dormant within us as archetypes. That is, the awareness of our being anchored in the earth and the universe, the awareness that we are not here alone nor for ourselves alone, but that we are an integral part of higher, mysterious entities against whom it is not advisable to blaspheme. This forgotten awareness is encoded in all religions. All cultures anticipate it in various forms. It is one of the things that form the basis of man’s understanding of himself, of his place in the world, and ultimately of the world as such.

“Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, in the cosmos.”

– From “The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World,” an address given by Czech President, Vaclav Havel, at Independence Hall, Philadelphia on July 4, 1994 on the occasion of his receiving the Philadelphia Liberty Medal.


“What is in a name? I remember a conversation with a distinguished scientist keen to rubbish “all that Gaia nonsense”. When I protested and offered to rename it “geophysiology”, “earth systems science” or something similar, he brightened up and eventually confessed that “most of it must be right”. The choice of the Greek goddess Gaia rather than of some Greek-derived scientific polysyllable, or, worse, some acronym, was a risk. On the one hand it was just too attractive for those in search of a new religion at a time when traditional religions were breaking down; on the other it was just too repulsive for those who liked to hide their science in coded vocabulary. The result was that some New Age travellers jumped aboard, and some otherwise sensible scientists jumped off.

This is probably still the case. But as a theory, Gaia is now winning. The scientific communities of the four great international global change research programmes – the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the International Biodiversity Programme (Diversitas) – met at Amsterdam on 13 July 2001. They then adopted a Declaration on Global Change, signed by over a thousand people, which stated squarely that “the Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system, comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components. The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability.”

Here indeed is Gaia theory. The same goes for the earth systems science which is now the concern of the Geological Society of London (with which the Gaia Society recently merged). Whatever the label, earth systems science, or Gaia, has now become a major subject of enquiry and research, and no longer has to justify itself.

– From “Earth Systems Science: Are We Pushing Gaia Too Hard?” a speech by Sir Crispin Tickell in 2006.