Humans in relation to Gaia
Humans as Gaia's masters
According to some traditional religious texts, humanity is meant to have dominion over the natural world. This point of view states that our unique abilities set humans apart from all other species (hence the common assumption that the categories "human" and "animal" are separate) and give us the right to take over management of Earth's natural systems.
Arguably, some environmentalist rhetoric assumes the same kind of relationship, asking humans to take on the role of protectors of life on Earth, using our supposed mastery over Gaia in ways that help rather than harm it. In Ishmael, Daniel Quinn argues that all non-hunter-gatherer cultures see humanity as Gaia's masters.
Humans as Gaia's children
Main article: Gaia's Children
Many environmentalists have adopted the view, common among Native American cultures, that Earth is the mother of all people.
Humans as cells in Gaia's body
If Gaia is considered as a superorganism encompassing all life on Earth, then individual organisms would logically serve as small but self-contained parts of that superorganism. The best metaphor for this seems to be cells; although James Lovelock admits this is inadequate as a scientific description, he does embrace its usefulness as a metaphor. This concept is the basis for the Gaia's Heartbeat music video. It is also equivalent to describing humans as holonic children of Gaia.
Humans as brain cells
From a scientific perspective, there's no evidence that Gaia had high intelligence before humans came along. But since humans are part of Gaia, by definition, Gaia has the combined intelligence of all humans (although it clearly isn't combined as effectively as in an actual brain). Physicist Peter Russell popularized the idea that global communication networks have created the possibility of a "Global Brain."
Humans as immune cells
The potential for humans to develop technology that can defend Gaia against killer asteroids led space and agriculture enthusiast Gus Frederick to suggest the concept of humans as immune-system cells. This concept could also apply to people healing Gaia's ecosystems through ecological restoration work.
Humans as reproductive cells
Humans as cancer cells
The severe environmental damage resulting from many human activities, as well as the rapid growth of the human population and consumption rates over the past century, have led some environmentalists to the conclusion that humanity's current behavior within Gaia is little different from that of a cancer in a human body.
Gaia as self
Another, somewhat abstract viewpoint says that rather than considering oneself a part of Gaia, a person with the right mental outlook can identify with the whole. This viewpoint is part of the basis for environmentalist thought leader Joanna Macy's book, World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal.
- J.E. Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia (W.W. Norton): 177 (1988).
- ibid: 211.