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What is the Gaia Hypothesis? Can it Help us Save the Ocean?

5 min read

What is the Gaia Hypothesis? Can it Help us Save the Ocean?

Gaia (also spelt Gaea) is the Ancient Greek personification of the Earth, a goddess and mother to the titans Gigantes, Erinyes, Cyclopes and Cronus. In 1972 her name was fittingly borrowed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis and chemist James Lovelock to describe their Gaia Hypothesis or Gaia Theory: that all life on Earth is interconnected, to such a degree that our planet (Gaia) should be seen as a giant self-regulating organism, one that every person reading this forms an integral part of.

The hypothesis, as well as Margulis’ own research into the evolution of cells, was particularly controversial because it brought into serious doubt many aspects of Darwinism. However, over time both the Gaia hypothesis and even more so Margulis’ own research garnered the respect of the scientific mainstream. As explained in the Nature Journal by marine and atmospheric scientist Andrew Watson of the University of Exeter, Lovelock and Margulis’...


“... insight that the oceans and the atmosphere are thoroughly entwined with the living biosphere, and must be understood as a coupled system, has been completely vindicated.”  

Ancient Wisdom Vindicated by Science

Part of the controversy surrounding the Gaia Hypothesis was that in many ways it sidelined some modern scientific censuses, favouring instead ancient philosophies about the interconnectedness of things, much of which had been touted for thousands of years by tribal shamans and witch doctors – men and women whose deep understanding of nature had been dismissed as magical or wishful thinking.

This was perhaps most evident in the way that the Gaia Hypothesis deemed plants to be living, breathing, feeling, thinking beings – just as any animal or human might be – which led the way for mycologists like Paul Stamets to show how entire woodlands or forest ecosystems interact via mycelium networks (mushroom roots). Here is Stamet at a TED Talk revealing his incredible discoveries: 


Gaia, the Ocean & Feedback Loops

Just as the concepts in the Gaia Hypothesis empowered fungi fanatics, they have done the same for many ocean lovers too. This is largely due to Lovelock’s groundbreaking research on feedback loops, the diagram Lovelock used to describe them found below (courtesy of Science Museum Group):

In simple terms, a feedback loop refers to how naturally occurring or human inputs lead to certain outcomes, which in turn restrain each other to form necessary planetary constraints. An example of humans disrupting Gaia’s natural feedback loops is through the burning of fossil fuels. This releases CO2 into the atmosphere, trapping more energy from the sun within earth’s atmosphere. The oceans are then required to absorb more heat, resulting in an increase in sea surface temperatures and rising sea levels as polar ice sheets melt.

Gaia Can Only do so Much

As scientists learn more about feedback loops, they also understand more about planetary boundaries, which once crossed may bring about partial or total planetary breakdown. Essentially, Gaia is straining under the weight of our demands on her ancient body, one that may begin to break down and cease to heal unless our human societies change the way they operate.

How the Gaia Hypothesis Can Help Save the Ocean?

James Lovelock was treated well by Gaia, who saw that he lived to 103, finally succumbing to old age in 2022. He lived long enough to see his Gaia Hypothesis used to formulate all sorts of grand plans that could save the earth from catastrophic climate change. Lovelock himself became so worried about its dangers that he advocated for the mass expansion of nuclear power and even harboured hopes that AI might find a solution.

However, Gaia Theory’s lasting legacy is how it has helped later generations understand that we live on a finite planet, where for every action and resource used there are cascading repercussions, some positive and some negative, all of which must be weighed up with great care.

While we would never claim that Gaia Theory played a seminal role in how TWOTHIRDS was set up as a sustainable fashion brand, many of the theory’s tenets ring true for us. Our PRE-ORDER system ensures we only use the raw materials we really need. Our Deadstock Limited Edition collections keep textile waste from polluting oceans and landfill. We advocate for slow fashion and eco-conscious consumerism. It’s why everyone at TWOTHIRDS has become so enamoured by Gaia.

How to Find Out More About Gaia?

The most obvious places to begin learning about the Gaia Hypothesis are at its source. Lovelock’s Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth was the book that started it all. Meanwhile, Lynn Margulis’ Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution is an equally eye-opening read and gives context as to how the trailblazing female scientist informed the thinking of her male counterpart.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, one of the best genres to turn to when trying to understand Gaia Theory is science fiction. Some authors who have taken Gaia Theory and run with it (or in some cases even scarily foreseen it) include Ursula Le Guin, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. The latter wrote this, a whole six years before the Gaia Hypothesis was released:


“There's an internally recognized beauty of motion and balance on any man-healthy planet. You see in this beauty a dynamic stabilising effect essential to all life. Its aim is simple: to maintain and produce coordinated patterns of greater and greater diversity. Life improves the closed system's capacity to sustain life.” 


We’ll leave it up to you to decide if Margulis and Lovelock borrowed their hypothesis from Dune