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Gaia 2.0

Is humanity now integral to Gaia?
Gaia 2.0

by Timothy M. Lenton & Bruno Latour

‍According to Lovelock and Margulis's Gaia hypothesis, living things are part of a planetary-scale self-regulating system that has maintained habitable conditions for the past 3.5 billion years. Gaia has operated without foresight or planning on the part of organisms, but the evolution of humans and their technology are changing that. Earth has now entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene, and humans are beginning to become aware of the global consequences of their actions. As a result, deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

At first sight, the potential for a successful Gaia 2.0 does not seem promising. Despite large-scale mobilization of scientists, activists, and citizens, large parts of the human population are indifferent to the Anthropocene, and many deny anthropogenic climate change. In addition, there is no proof that consciousness in this context is anything but the belated and retrospective realization that mistakes had been made and might be partially redressed. Indeed, the first formulation of the Gaia hypothesis is almost exactly contemporary with what is now seen as the start of the Anthropocene. Furthermore, the examples of social Darwinism, sociobiology, and dialectical materialism suggest that drawing political lessons from nature is problematic.

Nevertheless, it is important to have a second look at the connection between the original Gaia concept and a possible Gaia 2.0, because the original Gaia has many traits that were not detectable in earlier notions of nature associated with the development of Western civilization. Before the Anthropocene, Western societies saw themselves as the only conscious agents in a passive material environment. Today, they must cope with the brutal reactions of living organisms that are continually reshaping their surroundings, creating in part their own conditions for survival. Gaia thus establishes a new continuity between humans and nonhumans that was not visible before—a relation between free agents. This understanding offers the potential to learn from features of Gaia to create a Gaia 2.0. We focus here on three of these features: autotrophy, networks, and heterarchy

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