Environmental Ethics - Gaia Hypothesis

  • Created by: Alasdair
  • Created on: 21-05-17 15:16
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  • The Gaia Hypothesis
    • Outline
      • James Lovelock orginated Gaia Theory in 1965, adopting name of Greek goddess of earth
      • Idea further developed by Lyn Margolis
      • "The Gaia hypothesis views the biosphere as an adaptive control system able to maintain the earth in homeostasis...living organisms regulate the climate and chemistry of the atmosphere in their own interest" Lovelock (2007:29)
      • For a quarter of time universe has existed (3 billion years out of 12 billion), Gaia has produced system of self-regulation where temperature stays close to ideal for flourishing life
      • As temperature rises feedback mechanisms keep earth in dynamic equilibrium, e.g. oxygen stays constant at 21% of atmosphere
      • Recently confirmed by computer model known as Daisyworld - white and black daisies grow at different temperatures  with white daisies reflecting heat thereby lowering temperature allowing black daisies to grow.
      • So, Earth is seen as an independent holistic life form - holistic view rejects ontological dualism of inert matter vs. sentience in favour of monism - all matter is seen as, in some sense, alive - there is no hierarchy with humankind at the top
      • Lovelock describes Gaia as "a physiological system because it seems to have the unconscious goal of regulating the climate and the chemistry at a comfortable state for life" (2007:20)
      • Dawkins rejects this purpose of nature
      • Gaia is however a metaphor: "it has never been more than a metaphor....no more serious than a sailor who refers to his ship as "she"" Lovelock (2007:21)
      • Lovelock likens Gaia to a camel: "when forcing is too strong, whether it is the hot or cold Gaia, as a camel would, moves to a new stable state that is easier to maintain. She is about to move now." (2007:21). Hence a recent book describes the revenge of Gaia - Lovelock predicts world population will fall from 7 to 1.5 billion.
      • Gaia theory accepts idea of evolution but sees it as too limited
      • As in Darwinian theory, organisms adapt to and change nature of environment, so that organisms also contributed to and change the nature of environment, so that organism and environment become interdependent: they evolve together. Now the industrialised world has greatly accelerated rate of environmental change, what effects will accelerated changes have on the balance of biotic life?
    • Positives
      • Darwinian theory links to this - we do see orgnaisms adapt within this theory too - therefore Gaia hypothesis is arguably backed by mainstream science.
      • Is scientific - see metaphor quote
      • Evidence in Daisyworld project
    • Criticisms
      • In 1981, W. Ford Doolittle argued nothing in genome of individual organisms which could provide feedback mechanisms Gaia theory proposed and that therefore Gaia Hypothesis was unscientific theory of maternal type without any explanatory mechanism
      • Richard Dawkins argues world would not act in concert as it would require foresight and planning from them
        • Rejected idea of feedback loops stabilising system stating 'there was no way for evolution by natural selection to lead to altruism on a Global scale"
      • Stephen Jay Gould criticised Gaia as merely metaphorical description of Earth's processes - wanted to know actual mechanisms by which self-regulating homeostasis was regulated
        • Lovelock argued no one mechanism is responsible and that the connections between various objects may never be known


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