New book finds Gaia Hypothesis implausible

Jul 03, 2013

A new book presents the first detailed and comprehensive analysis of the famous Gaia Hypothesis, and finds it to be inconsistent with modern evidence.

In the 1970's James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis proposed that has played a critical role in shaping the planetary and climate for around three billion years. Life has not been merely a passive passenger on a fortuitously habitable Earth, Lovelock claimed, but rather has shaped the environment and helped to keep it stable and comfortable for life.

In the 30 years or so since it was first proposed, the Gaia Hypothesis has intrigued a whole generation of those interested in and planet Earth. Today it is widely but by no means universally credited by scientists. It remains controversial.

In his book, 'On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth', Toby Tyrrell, Professor of Earth system science at the University of Southampton, concludes that the Gaia Hypothesis is not consistent with modern scientific evidence and understanding and should therefore be rejected.

Professor Tyrrell's book submits the Gaia Hypothesis to detailed scrutiny, subjecting each of three main arguments put forward in support of Gaia to close analysis, and comparing them to evidence collected in the more than 30 years since the Gaia Hypothesis was first proposed. It is the first book containing a hard-nosed and thorough examination of the Gaia Hypothesis.

It considers some of the great questions about the nature of our planet, its history, and how it came to give rise to us. Many fascinating topics are covered, often from little-known corners of the natural world. Examples include: in the High Andes and the similarity of their beaks to the flowers they extract from; the wonderfully-named Walsby's square in the Dead Sea; the ever-lasting durability of the waste that generate; changes in the nature of the saltiness of over geological time; and differences in the way Australian snakes bear young depending on climate.

Professor Tyrrell, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, says: "My aim was to determine whether the Gaia Hypothesis is a credible explanation of how life and environment interact on Earth - I found it is not.

"Firstly, because there are no facts or phenomena that can be explained only by Gaia (no 'smoking gun'). Secondly, because there is no proven mechanism for Gaia (no accepted reason for why it should emerge out of natural selection). And thirdly, because the key lines of argument that Lovelock and others advanced in support of Gaia either give equally strong support to alternative hypotheses or else are mistaken."

In the book, Professor Tyrrell finds that a competing hypothesis, co-evolution of life and environment, is compatible with our modern understanding in a way that Gaia is not.

Professor Tyrrell adds: "Stephen Schneider and Randi Londer put forward the idea of a coevolution between life and its environment: biological processes such as oxygen production by photosynthesis shape the environment, and, clearly, the environment also strongly influences life through evolution of organisms to fit their environments. Coevolution recognises that both affect the other. Unlike Gaia, however, coevolution does not claim any emergent property out of the two-way interaction between life and environment. It is neutral with regards to predictions about the resulting effect on the environment. It does not suggest that the interaction tends to improve living conditions on Earth."

The question of how Earth's environment works is especially important at the present time, as we seek to understand how large anthropogenic pressures affect it.

Explore further: Quakes destroy or damage 83 houses in Philippines

More information: The book is published by Princeton University Press and is available now: press.princeton.edu/titles/9959.html

Professor Tyrrell will be giving a talk about his evaluation of the Gaia Hypothesis and signing copies of his book on Thursday 4 July at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

The talk starts at 6.30pm and is open to the public.

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geokstr
1.7 / 5 (22) Jul 03, 2013
Uh-oh.

The entire religion of Environmentalism is at stake here. I'd be surprised it this author lives long enough to cash his first royalty check.
JohnGee
3.2 / 5 (21) Jul 03, 2013
The Gaia hypothesis never was and is not sine qua non for environmentalism. Definitive disproval of the Gaia hypothesis--which this is not--does not prevent organisms from affecting the environment either.

I'd be surprised it this author lives long enough to cash his first royalty check.
Jokepostr, will you agree to stop posting here if he does? If he dies, at the hands of environmental terrorists or by any other means including unrelated accidents, I will deactivate my account. At some point you have to eat your words or you are a coward.
VendicarE
4.1 / 5 (13) Jul 03, 2013
"The entire religion of Environmentalism is at stake here." - GeoksTard

GeoksTard spends way too much time breathing his own farts.

Environmentalism I.E. The movement that promotes living sustainably along with natural ecosystems, existed long before the Gaia hypothesis, and has never been predicated or based upon such a hypothesis.

The fact that GeoksTard believes that Environmentalism is based on Gaia illustrates how spectacularly ignorant he is.

This is not the only line of evidence illustrating his spectacular ignorance.

Shootist
1.4 / 5 (21) Jul 03, 2013
"Sustainably" another word for, "we'll have ours, and yours, as well".

The Communist jargon hasn't changed in 70 years.
deepsand
3.5 / 5 (22) Jul 04, 2013
The Communist jargon hasn't changed in 70 years.

Neither has that of the scientifically illiterate.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (13) Jul 04, 2013
he Communist jargon hasn't changed in 70 years

It's not a problem of 'communist' or 'capitalist' but totalitarian vs. non-totalitarian.
Totalitarian regimes can get away with raping the ecosphere for their own gain (whether they call themselves 'communist' or 'capitalist' is immaterial)

On the other hand: governments dependent on public vote have to tread more lightly when it comes to messing up the environment.
And you may notice: with the rise of lobbying in the US that same problem has arisen - where countrysides are being devastated by fracking or ocean patches being contaminated by oil spills despite the qualms of the people.
And all this precisely because corporations are in (totalitarian) control - no matter that the US calls itself 'capitalist' (or 'a democracy')
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (13) Jul 04, 2013
In dense aether model the democratic and centralist traits of society must remain in balance.

Holy bouncing Batman... dense aether has something to say about social attitudes?

You, sir, are beyond the madness horizon and accelerating...
VendicarE
3.9 / 5 (11) Jul 04, 2013
""Sustainably" another word for"- ShooTard

ShooTard has manufactured his own Bizzaro World definition for the term "sustainable"

How dishonestly Conservative of him.

Sustainable: Definition

1. Capable of being sustained.

2.a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged

b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods
Neinsense99
3.5 / 5 (16) Jul 05, 2013
Uh-oh.

The entire religion of Environmentalism is at stake here. I'd be surprised it this author lives long enough to cash his first royalty check.

Straw man argument and conspiracy theory. Typical crud.
kochevnik
3.6 / 5 (14) Jul 05, 2013
ShooTard has manufactured his own Bizzaro World definition for the term "sustainable"

How dishonestly Conservative of him.
The only sustainability ShooTard and other conservatives obsess over is the sustainability of their master's erection
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (10) Jul 06, 2013
ShooTard and his Conservative Buddies just love taking it up the backside.

"Please Massa, I wants more."

Worthless Vermin.
Guy_Underbridge
4.3 / 5 (9) Jul 06, 2013
The only ones that should worry about 'sustainability' are humans. The planet doesn't really care one way or another.
deepsand
3.2 / 5 (18) Jul 07, 2013
The only ones that should worry about 'sustainability' are humans. The planet doesn't really care one way or another.

A fact lost to far too many.

They fail to understand that the universe will do nothing to stop them from killing themselves.
VendicarE
3.8 / 5 (11) Jul 07, 2013
"The only ones that should worry about 'sustainability' are humans." - Guy

I think they are the only ones capable of worry.

With great ability comes great responsibility.
Eikka
1.3 / 5 (15) Jul 07, 2013
It does appear that many individuals who subsrcibe to environmentalism do hold the Gaia hypothesis as a sort of religion.

The hypothesis includes the idea that the earth, or nature, exists in some sort of homeostasis which it tries to maintain, and therefore it is human responsibility to maintain this state such that you can't change anything - despite the fact that the nature itself is changing and driving species to extinction.

The gaia believers reject the idea that you can have "healthy" nature that is engineered by humans by committing the naturalistic fallacy: that which is, is what should be, because to them, Gaia is God.
JohnGee
3.3 / 5 (14) Jul 07, 2013
The gaia believers reject the idea that you can have "healthy" nature that is engineered by humans by committing the naturalistic fallacy: that which is, is what should be, because to them, Gaia is God.
I don't believe the Gaia Hypothesis, but I don't think it's unreasonable. I also strongly reject using something's naturalness as an argument for its utility, safety, etc. I've also never met a person that worshiped Gaia.

Are you religious? In my experience only the most religious try to use the argument you are using i.e. "those that disagree with me must be religious zealots." Hypocritical, isn't it?
VendicarE
4.2 / 5 (11) Jul 07, 2013
"It does appear that many individuals who subsrcibe to environmentalism do hold the Gaia hypothesis as a sort of religion." - Eikka

I have never met such a person, but some probably do exist among the crystal carrying new age types.

If we consider the opposite of the Gaia hypothesis for a moment, we can reject it immediately since life clearly does not act on a whole to extinguish itself. If it did, the planet would be lifeless.

So either life is completely ambivalent concerning it's own existence or Gaia is correct.

Given that individual species have evolved along with other species to maximize their reproductive success in any given niche, the precedent for mutually beneficial co-evolution is there.

It takes very little to generalize this to co-evolution for the benefit of the entire biosphere.

So I am inclined to accept a weak form of Gaia.
Eikka
1.1 / 5 (12) Jul 07, 2013
I have never met such a person, but some probably do exist among the crystal carrying new age types.


Religion, in the sense that they take the basic idea of nature maintaining homeostasis with itself as self-evidently true. They have it on faith that nature has this balance between e.g. prey and predators.

The opposite of the Gaia hypothesis isn't that life is out to destroy itself. The opposite hypothesis is, that life just happens to be, and that there's no balance of nature, but instead everything is transient.

Are you religious? In my experience only the most religious try to use the argument you are using i.e. "those that disagree with me must be religious zealots." Hypocritical, isn't it?


Disagree with me on what? Seems to me that you're projecting an opinion to me.
Eikka
1.1 / 5 (12) Jul 07, 2013
So either life is completely ambivalent concerning it's own existence or Gaia is correct.


Here you have the problem as the Gaia hypothesis does: there seems to be an unquestioned assumption that "life" is an entity that can be concerned with its own existence, instead of just another physical phenomenon that happens to happen. How does this entity emerge?

It actually borders on anthropomorphization of the concept of life, or ascribing sentience to an abstract concept, which makes very little logical sense.
antigoracle
1.3 / 5 (16) Jul 07, 2013
The Communist jargon hasn't changed in 70 years.

Neither has that of the scientifically illiterate.

As your statement demonstrates.
Eikka
1.9 / 5 (14) Jul 07, 2013
The trouble of us observing the nature is that we're not seeing any evolutionary path taking its full course. The environment keeps changing and shuffling the deck, so we never get to see what would ultimately happen between, let's say gazelles and lions for example; do the lions eventually eat all the gazelles and then move on to something else, or do the gazelles develop poisonous hooves and kill all the lions?

Co-evolution does not necessarily lead to mutually benefical solutions for the species involved.

VendicarE
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 07, 2013
"They have it on faith that nature has this balance between e.g. prey and predators." - Eikka

No faith is required, The fact that life has not extinguished itself over the last 3 billion years is a striking observation that life is not an impediment to it's own existence.

"The opposite hypothesis is, that life just happens to be," - Eikka

No. That is the neutral position. And there is evidence against that as well.

"So either life is completely ambivalent concerning it's own existence or Gaia is correct." - Eikka

That is my conclusion, although there is evidence against the neutral position as well.

VendicarE
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 07, 2013
"Co-evolution does not necessarily lead to mutually benefical solutions for the species involved." - Eikka

I don't know of any examples of organisms evolving to be less fit for their environment.

Can you provide some examples?

If an organism evolves to alter it's environment so that it is more fit to survive would it not offer the evolutionary advantage to do so?

It seems to me that it would.

Do organisms evolve and change the biosphere? Yes. Clearly.

So it isn't much of a stretch to put the two together.

Personally I think the connection is weak given the timescales evolved and the disproportionate power of raw material non-biological nature vs the biosphere. Still, the influence must be there.
deepsand
3.6 / 5 (14) Jul 07, 2013
The Communist jargon hasn't changed in 70 years.

Neither has that of the scientifically illiterate.

As your statement demonstrates.

Non sequitur.
Sinister1811
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 08, 2013
There's a lot criticism of this idea. But it's not without merit. If you look the body - it's a number of cells and microbes working together to produce a super organism. And interestingly, the Earth's ecosystem functions in the same way.

Co-evolution does not necessarily lead to mutually benefical solutions for the species involved.


No, but co-evolution ensures that the relationship remains stable over time. Evolution occurs when a species faces a direct long-term selective pressure that might doom its existence.
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2013
No faith is required, The fact that life has not extinguished itself over the last 3 billion years is a striking observation that life is not an impediment to it's own existence.


It's not the same predators and prey for the whole 3 billion years, is it?

A puddle exists because there's a dent in the ground, and it rains. When it stops raining, the puddle slowly dries out. Your basic fallacy is that you're looking at the puddle while it's drizzling water and arguing that the puddle is maintaining itself because it isn't actively trying to drain itself.

Life continues because there's material for it, and a constant flux of energy. If life died out, it would be replaced by other life, as long as the sun shines and the earth turns.
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2013
That is the neutral position.


No. The neutral position is basically declining to comment.

The logical opposite of "life is trying to maintain itself" is not "life is trying to destroy itself", but simply "life isn't trying to maintain itself".

That means it isn't actively trying to exist, but rather it does because it happens to do so. That's how evolution basically works: species that do survive, do survive, and species that don't, don't. Species aren't specifically trying to survive, or trying to adapt, or trying to evolve, rather they simply do if they happen to, and with the ever-growing multitude of species out there it's pretty much guaranteed that some form of life will continue without any sort of attempt to do so as long as the conditions keep permitting it.

Just like the puddle that keeps growing as long as it rains.
PeterParker
3 / 5 (4) Jul 18, 2013
Certainly a life form that evolves to modify it's environment to make it easier for it to survive is at a competitive advantage over those who do not do so.

So evolution favors such development.
PeterParker
3 / 5 (4) Jul 18, 2013
The Neutral position is critically unstable.