Reflections on Week 1 – Gaia

polar bearIn taking an online course on Climate Change through Future Learn and University of Exeter, the word reflection has more than one meaning!  The course is 8 weeks of online learning and discussion through social media and my blog will now carry some of those reflections that are encouraged and necessary in undertaking such learning activities.  This post includes links to sites I have found useful and a video on a conceptualisation of our planet that we must take seriously.

Reflection, in a physical sense, plays an significant role in regulating our planet’s temperature and therefore its climate. Too much reflection of the sun’s radiation and we cool down; too little and we heat up. Solar radiation can be reflected by clouds but also there is reflection by the Earth’s surface. This reflection is called the “albedo effect”, where the lighter the colour (snow, ice caps), the greater the amount of reflection.

Our Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere composed of many gases. Significant among these are carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. It acts like a blanket that absorbs heat and re-emits it.  Heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere is either radiated back out into space or absorbed by atmospheric gases or the Earth’s surface and this process regulates the Earth’s temperature.  However, the stability of this regulation is affected by a number of factors, especially the gasses in our atmosphere.  And our long standing concern has been over the human-induced climate change caused by increased amounts of “greenhouse” gasses, especially carbon dioxide.

The detailed science of our weather and climate can can be far more adequately described by others, such as the Met Office.  However, I have returned this week to the work of a man who has influenced thinking about our planet and its regulatory systems.  James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis proposes that “organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet” (  Although Lovelock’s work has been criticised by key scientific thinkers and the notion of a sentient Earth is challenging at the very least, it prompts the need to think deeply about the holistic and interrelated nature of the biological, physical and geological “systems” that make up our planet.

I hope, over the coming weeks of the course, that we will be able to discuss the need to ensure the development of our eco-literacy along with our understanding of climate change.


One thought on “Reflections on Week 1 – Gaia

  1. Thank you Neil for these thoughts. I had thought about joining you on the course but time pressures amde me decide against it. Reading what you have thought through is a great way of keeping in touch. Camilla

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