Gaia is neither benevolent nor merciful. She is harsh and ruthless.
Environmentalists are sometimes defined as “Gaia worshippers,” a term supposed to be an insult. That’s a little strange because most people on this planet openly worship non-existing entities and that doesn’t normally make them targets for insults. Maybe it is because there is an important difference, here: Gaia exists. Oh yes, she does exist!
Who or what is Gaia, exactly? The name belongs to an ancient Goddess but the modern version is something completely different. As you probably know, the term was proposed for the first time by James Lovelock in 1972 and co-developed with Lynn Margulis. As it happens for many innovative ideas, it was the result of a simple observation: if the Sun radiative intensity increases gradually over the eons, how come that the Earth’s surface temperature has remained within the boundaries necessary to keep the biosphere alive? There has to be something that keeps it like that and Lovelock proposed that the mechanism was based on regulating the concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2.
So, Gaia is not supposed to be benevolent nor merciful, and not even a Goddess: we could say that She is what She is. But does She really really exist? Not everyone agrees on this point, the concept is often referred as the “Gaia hypothesis” and entire books have been written to demonstrate that there is no such a thing. Indeed, in the beginning, the idea was mostly qualitative and not proven. Lovelock proposed a clever model called “Daisyworld” that showed how a simple biosphere could control the temperature of a planet. But the Earth’s biosphere is not just made out of daisies and something more than that was needed. And, yes, over time proofs have accumulated to show that Gaia is much more than a qualitative hypothesis (or an object of worship by people believing in non-existing beings).
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