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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 30: Gaia Theory: Intimations for Global Environmental Politics

Karen Litfin


Karen Litfin Gaia theory, first proposed in 1970 by British chemist James Lovelock and later elaborated by microbiologist Lynn Margulis, has developed from a controversial hypothesis to a broadly accepted set of ideas about the relationships among Earth’s physical, chemical and biological features. Gaia theory represents a creative synthesis that has emerged through and built upon reductionist science, viewing the Earth holistically as a living entity in two senses. First, living organisms regulate the planet’s geochemistry to the benefit of the whole. Second, and more radically, Earth itself may be understood as a complex, bounded, self-organizing, adaptive organism. The Gaian perspective has helped to spawn a paradigmatic shift in the natural sciences, most clearly seen in the new integrative field of Earth system science. Because the concept of Gaia appeals to the popular imagination, its societal influence is already surprisingly deep and broad. Lovelock (2000: xi) was astonished to receive twice as many letters in response to his first book on Gaia from people interested in its religious aspects as from those with a more scientific bent. The evocative image of Gaia as Earth goddess and mother of all creation has animated discussion in religious, literary and philosophical circles. The political implications of Gaia theory, however, have not been so widely explored. This chapter seeks to open that discussion. The image of a living Earth may be as old as the human species. Throughout history, the perception of the Earth as a sacred and self-generative organism...

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