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Group History

History of the Earth System Science group

The Gaia Network (or simply Gaia) was founded in February 1998 to promote an integrated understanding of the Earth System through research and education. In 2001 it continued its activities as a specialist group on Earth System Science within the Geological Society of London and has organised numerous conferences at Burlington House on topics such as the co-evolution of life and the planet, planetary habitability and the role of sulphur in the Earth System. The group comprises paleobiologists, geochemists, numerical modellers and geologists of all ilk, be they academic, professional, student or simply eager to learn. The ESSG runs at least one science meeting per year, usually at Burlington House.

History of the Gaia Network

In the 1960's, James Lovelock, through his research on the composition of the atmosphere with NASA, developed the controversial concept now known as Gaia. Gaia regards the Earth as a living totality, a self-regulating system that maintains 'comfortable' conditions for and by life itself. The idea of Gaia brings together all areas of science and this is one of the reasons why it remained largely an unexplored field for many years.

The concept of the earth as a self-maintaining system - Gaia - is now widely accepted as a reputable part of physical science. But this is not just a scientific doctrine. It is also a large and extraordinarily fruitful idea. It affects areas of our life that lie far outside science - for instance politics, psychology, economics, agriculture, industry, ethics and religion.

On all these matters it can provide new and useful ways of thinking. Human impact on the planet is mounting and the need for sustainable development is becoming more urgent. Current scientific thinking is proving inadequate to cope with the complexities of the resulting environmental problems, and while there is a recognition that 'joined-up thinking' is essential if we are going to move towards sustainability, it is not clear what this means in practice.

This emerging paradigm can help to correct the limitations of such narrowly reductionist theories as neo-Darwinism to guide our actions in a complex world. It has profound implications for how we view ourselves, how we treat each other, how we treat other species, how we think about community, and how we respond to change. A great deal will depend on the way in which this new paradigm is now developed.

In 2019, James Lovelock turned 100 and his uniquely holistic way of looking at the world was celebrated in a highly personal conference. For more information, see here.