An expert on the chemical composition of the Earth’s and Mars atmospheres, Dr. Lovelock wondered why the Earth’s atmosphere was so stable. He theorized that something must regulate heat, oxygen, nitrogen and other components.
“Life on the surface has to do the regulation,” he later wrote.
He presented the theory in 1967 at a meeting of the American Astronautical Society in Lansing, Michigan, and in 1968 at a scientific meeting at Princeton University.
That summer, the writer William Golding, a friend, suggested the name Gaia, after the Greek goddess of the earth. Mr Golding, the author of “Lord of the Flies” and other books, lived near Mr Lovelock in the South West of England.
A few scientists hailed the hypothesis as a thoughtful way to explain how living systems affected the planet. However, many others called it New Age pablum.
Without the contributions of Lynn Margulis, an eminent American microbiologist, the hypothesis may never have gained credence and moved into the scientific mainstream. In the early 1970s and in the decades since, she collaborated with Dr. Lovelock to specific research to support the idea.
Since then, a number of scientific meetings on the Gaia theory have been held, including one at George Mason University in 2006, and hundreds of papers have been published on aspects of it. Lovelock’s theory of a self-regulating Earth is considered essential to understanding the causes and effects of global warming.