What If the Earth Was One Living Organism?


Even from space, you can see that the planet Earth is full of life. When you take a closer look, you’ll discover a delicate balance of millions of different life forms co-existing, and relying on each other to survive. But what if these aren’t all unique individual organisms? What if they’re all just extensions of one superorganism? The Earth. Think of the Earth as being like a human body. When our body starts to overheat, it has its own perspiration system to help regulate its temperature and cool down. When Earth starts to overheat, it has its own system of plant and animal life to regulate its atmosphere
and control the temperature. But now our planet is heating up at a pace that is beyond its abilities to keep fixing itself, and that’s due to us. Which begs the question: are we a part of Earth’s regulatory system? Or are we a disease
that has come to disrupt it? Today we’re going to do
things a little differently. Instead of our usual approach of looking at what would happen if
the Earth became one living organism, we are going to focus on the theory
that it might have been one all along. The main theory that puts this
idea forward is called the Gaia theory, named after the Greek goddess of Earth. This theory argues that all living organisms,
along with their inorganic surroundings, adapted and evolved as a collective
whole in the form of one giant, self-regulating system that keeps checks and balances in
place in order for life to survive on Earth. We know this sounds
like the kind of theory that might have come from the
smoky tents of a hippie commune, but it actually came from a highly
accredited scientist named James Lovelock. He came up with this theory
while studying the question of why Earth’s atmosphere is
different from what we see on Mars. Why does our planet have
both oxygen and methane, when Mars has mainly carbon dioxide? His thinking is that since
oxygen comes from plants, and methane is the result of bacteria, the Earth is regulating its atmosphere, providing oxygen to support life, and methane to help
maintain a livable temperature. Over the years, he found more instances
of the Earth basically keeping itself alive, and his theory started to
attract prominent supporters, such as former U.S. vice president Al Gore. But despite all the people
who supported the Gaia theory, there were far more critics who dismissed it. One such critic is an evolutionary
biologist named Dr. Ford Doolittle yup, Dr. Doolittle. He argues that the entire theory
violates the scientific method since it only provides ideas, but offers no real explanation
of exactly how organisms could act together to maintain
a balance of life on Earth. As it stands now, this is a
matter that is still up for debate, but the opponents of the Gaia
theory probably hold the edge. If nothing else, the Gaia theory
can at least be beneficial to our society as an ideal to encourage
people to take better care of our planet. If we look at ourselves as being a
part of our planet’s regulatory system, then we might choose to make more
conscious decisions to aid that system, rather than to destroy it. Maybe one day we’ll look
back at the Gaia theory as the beginning of a better
understanding of our role on Earth, but that’s a topic for another WHAT IF.

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