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  • Writer's pictureSarah Patterson

James Lovelock and Common Earth

Originally Published in the Common Interests Newsletter, on August 22

This past July 26th, on the day of his 103rd birthday, James Lovelock died in his home country of England. He was known for his work as a chemist, medical doctor, author, activist, and environmentalist. In 1972 he developed the Gaia Hypothesis. This hypothesis, also known as the Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on this planet. Lovelock chose Gaia as the moniker for his hypothesis because in Greek mythology it’s the name of the goddess that personified Earth.

To celebrate Lovelock’s life and enormous influence in shaping Common Earth, we are dedicating this edition of our newsletter to him.

A decade after creating the Gaia Hypothesis, he on to create Daisyworld, a hypothetical world orbiting a star whose radiant energy is slowly increasing or decreasing. It is meant to mimic important elements of the Earth-Sun system and was introduced by James Lovelock and Andrew Watson in a paper published in 1983 to illustrate the plausibility of the Gaia hypothesis. In the original 1983 version, the computer-simulated Daisyworld is seeded with two varieties of daisies as its only life forms: black daisies and white daisies. White petaled daisies reflect light, while black petaled daisies absorb light. The simulation tracks the two daisy populations and the surface temperature of Daisyworld as the sun's rays grow more powerful. The surface temperature of Daisyworld remains almost constant over a broad range of solar output.

Drawing inspiration from this idea of an integrated and self-regulating system, Common Earth created its own version of Daisyworld where we celebrate Daisy Stories, instances of individuals who are exemplifying their commitment to regulating the temperature of our shared home. Their displays of tenacity not only provide us with powerful examples of what is possible when we don’t allow our thinking to get in our own way, but also an understanding that we are not simply all in this together, but in the words of Joanna Macy

“We are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again - and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before.”

This understanding of the world not merely as an interconnected web, but as us all being manifestations of the creativity of the life force of the universe is, at its essence, what Common Earth is all about. It is reinforced through our exploration of how complex systems work, how the human mind works, and what we know about the journey of the universe thus far.

Lovelock deeply understood this. It has been said in many ways with many faces like this quote from Krishnamurti:

You are part of the world; the world’s problem is your problem. In understanding the outer, you begin to understand the inner. You cannot understand the inner, the psychology of this whole inner process, without understanding the world. It is the same problem, two sides of the same coin. You cannot just take one side and say, ‘I’m going to inquire into that’ – you have to understand the outer as well as the inner.

I hear people all around me discussing their climate anxiety and their sense of doom because people are selfish, and governments and corporations are not taking the action we so clearly need. I say - so what? Just keep showing up with compassion, gratitude and love, secure in the knowledge that this is the most subversive and powerful way you can contribute to the healing of our planet. When we can each shed our insecurities and act from a place of wholeness, no longer will we inflict harm on one another or the planet.

So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic or enacts a hurtful law, or invades another country, try looking at them with the radical love, compassion and patience you would an errant child that has your heart and see how that starts to chip away at the story we hold about who we are and what we are capable of and what this does to the operation of the system.

We owe a profound debt of gratitude to James Lovelock, among others, who help us to see that we are all part of this magical, complex system that can regulate itself only when we see the interconnectedness of it and act from the same sense of urgency and love for the rest of the system as we do for ourselves. Because in the end, we understand that it is all one and the same.


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