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Friday, June 17, 2005

As She Rolls Beneath Our Feet

The earth is in a constant state of “disequilibrium” because it is alive. It churns and turns, creates, destroys, and obsessively obeys the first rule of life: change or die. I am not being anthropomorphic, giving human qualities to inanimate objects. I am not talking about human life, or even animals, insects or mitochondria. I am talking about the planet itself.

Have you ever heard of the Gaia hypothesis? It’s the concept of the earth as a whole organism in and of itself, with its own homeostasis system that combines the geology of oceans, rocks and air with the biology of protozoa, photosynthesis, and human stem cells. Basically everything. Everything included within one self-regulating system.

The environmental scientist James Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis were ridiculed as radical kooks by their peers when the Gaia hypothesis was proposed in the Seventies. Now they are quoted in the best scientific journals and widely respected. Their models have held up and their predictions have come true. It may indeed be true, mainstream scientists now concur: The earth itself may be an entity in its own right and human beings only one small part of a highly complex organism.

The Gaia hypothesis gives some trouble to Darwin’s theory of natural selection because it stresses cooperation more than competition. Lovelock asserts that “natural selection favors the improvers,” those who leave the environment and the whole of life on the planet in better shape.

If the earth is an organism, what kind of entity is it? Despite our particle accelerators and trips into space, we just don’t know. Some offer the idea that like the name of the hypothesis--the Greek goddess of the earth--this entity may possess consciousness. If this is true, I wonder what she might say about how we humans have been treating her.

“I just cleaned that forest!”
“What the hell have you got growing under your bed?”
“I’m warning you, stop it with that nuclear testing!”
“You’re killing your brothers and sisters again?”

About a week ago, there were large storms over our area and one person told me she saw something very strange: clumps of snow coming down in 60-something degree weather. Like hail but not ice, snow the size of snowballs falling out of the sky. I then got a call from Greenpeace asking for money and had to say sorry. But I got into a conversation with the caller about environmental changes. She had just spoken with her mother out in Southern Cali, who said they were being warned about a possible tsunami.Even though everyone I know has personally been witnessing changes in their environments, even though scientists around the world confirm our observations, the Bush administration says, “Oh, we don’t really know anything yet about global warming.”

We know that icecaps and polar regions are melting. Science also warns us that the ecologically critical Amazonian forests are turning into desert. It seems that the people there need to eat. So they slash and burn to grow food. Any of us would do the same. In most of the world, the necessities that follow poverty are the main forces destroying our environment. But poverty is not necessary, is it? In developed nations, it is greed that fuels dangerous consumption. The U.S., which contains only 5% of the world population, consumes 25% of world energy.

If we want to be counted among the life-respecters by Gaia as we approach the cataclysmic fallouts predicted by Lovelock later this century--from our greed for fossil fuels and dogmas that abhor change--we should at least take notice of Gaia as she rolls beneath our feet.

Think and Be Dangerous

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