Gaia hits the big screen

So last Monday I decided on the spur of the moment to go and see Avatar. I had kind of been putting off going to see it, a little disenchanted by some of the ‘it’s got no story’ reviews I’d heard from, well, everyone, really. But at last I could resist the pull of 3D graphics and far-away jungle utopias no longer. I bolted down my dinner to make the 7.30 showing.

‘Blimey, it was good…’

Blimey it was good. I just totally lost myself in a fantasy world. I even quite enjoyed the story to be honest – sometimes it’s nice to not have to think for three hours. But as I was watching Jake Sully effortlessly romp though his extraneous realm, soaring on savage pterosaurs and tuning in with his environment, I was struck that without humans on planet Earth, it might in fact look something like James Cameron’s Pandora.

Bear with me on this thought for a second. I admit we might have to put aside the six-legged coyotes and ‘tree of souls’, but essentially Cameron’s vision is of a world which takes care of itself. The planet is all about the flow of energy; none is ever wasted unnecessarily, it just flows from one thing to the next in a harmonious cycle. And when life appears to be threatened, the whole ecosystem begins to fights back.

The film could easily have been inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock’s theory states that here on our earth, the soil, the oceans and all life on and in them constitute a single extremely complex but ultimately connected system. The actions from one part of it are always counteracted by the reaction of another aspect. And  importantly, the theory also says that this earthly system tends, almost sentiently, towards a state which is ideal for life. The idea is named after the ancient Greek goddess who personified the Earth.

Dr. James Lovelock

Dr. Lovelock is undoubtedly right in that our biosphere does form an interconnected system, with complex knock on effects from each action. But many scientists find the idea that this system should necessarily tend towards a state where life is encouraged laughable. Why should that be the case?

Lovelock does have substantial evidence to back up his ideas though. During the lifespan of the Earth, the energy reaching us from the sun has increased by about 25%, yet the average terrestrial surface temperature has remained ridiculously consistent in comparison. This was almost certainly mediated by cyclic phases of growth and extinction of species which either took in or gave out specific gasses from the atmosphere as necessary. Why this happened though remains one of the most challenging questions facing proponents of the Gaia hypothesis.

Whatever the explanation, it still remains to be seen what will happen when we add in a species so bent on self-destruction that it defies belief. Will Gaia be able to cope when man is added to the hypothesis?

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One Response to Gaia hits the big screen

  1. Audrey says:

    That idea of a good design ties in with what I heard about Venus’ gravitational pull being positioned in just the right place to prevent meteorites crashing into earth a lot.
    There seems to be so much science on the tv lately. Jut watching at the moment how the banana crops in Kenya are being saved by a scientific cultivation or propogation technique to prevent disease and increase yield and crop values. This helps small farmers Another kenyan farmer is getting camels in to produce milk in drought. People are finding ingenious ways to adapt to changes on this ancient planet. Maybe there is more constructive activity than destructive?

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