[A-List] Why Gaia is wreaking revenge ...
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Fri Jan 20 08:28:20 MST 2006
Is it the extinction of the human species only and especially, or the
destruction of all life that this abuse of the environment threatens ?
There have been a lot of mass extinctions of species in the history of the
earth. What happened to the "planetary control system" during those mass
Isn't it likely that even if we humans extinguish ourselves in a
"punctuation", life on earth will go on, with a new "equilibrium" of
reached, and then punctuated again in the distant future ?
* From: Bill Totten
... on our abuse of the environment
by Michael McCarthy
The Independent (January 16 2006)
With anyone else, you would not really take it seriously: the proposition
because of climate change, human society as we know it on this planet may
already be condemned, whatever we do. It would seem not just radical, but
outlandish, mere hyperbole. And we react against it instinctively: it seems
simply too sombre to be countenanced.
But James Lovelock, the celebrated environmental scientist, has a unique
perspective on the fate of the Earth. Thirty years ago he conceived the idea
that the planet was special in a way no one had ever considered before: that
regulated itself, chemically and atmospherically, to keep itself fit for
as if it were a great super-organism; as if, in fact, it were alive.
The complex mechanism he put forward for this might have remained in the
pages of arcane geophysical journals had he continued to refer to it as
"the biocybernetic universal system tendency".
But his neighbour in the village of Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, the Nobel
Prize-winning novelist William Golding (who wrote Lord of The Flies),
suggested he christen it after the Greek goddess of the Earth; and Gaia was
Gaia has made Professor Lovelock world famous, but at first his fame was in
entirely unexpected quarter. Research scientists, who were his original
audience, virtually ignored his theory.
To his surprise, it was the burgeoning New Age and environmental movements
took it up - the generation who had just seen the first pictures of the
taken by the Apollo astronauts, the shimmering pastel-blue sphere hanging in
infinite black space, fragile and vulnerable, but our only home. They seized
his metaphor of a reinvented Mother Earth, who needed to be revered and
respected - or else.
It has been only gradually that the scientific establishment has become
convinced of the essential truth of the theory, that the Earth possesses a
planetary control system, founded on the interaction of living organisms
their environment, which has operated for billions of years to allow life to
exist, by regulating the temperature, the chemical composition of the
even the salinity of the seas.
But accepted it is, and now (under the term Earth System Science) it has
subsumed into the scientific mainstream; two years ago, for example, Nature,
the world's premier scientific journal, gave Professor Lovelock two pages to
sum up recent developments in it.
Yet now too, by a savage irony, it is Gaia that lies behind his profound
pessimism about how climate change will affect us all. For the planetary
control system, he believes, which has always worked in our favour, will now
work against us. It has been made up of a host of positive feedback
now, as the temperature starts to rise abnormally because of human activity,
these will turn harmful in their effect, and put the situation beyond our
To give just a single example out of very many: the ice of the Arctic Ocean
now melting so fast it is likely to be gone in a few decades at most.
are already acute about, for example, what that will mean for polar bears,
need the ice to live and hunt.
But there is more. For when the ice has vanished, there will be a dark ocean
that absorbs the sun's heat, instead of an icy surface that reflects ninety
per cent of it back into space; and so the planet will get even hotter
Professor Lovelock visualises it all in the title of his new book, The
of Gaia. Now 86, but looking and sounding twenty years younger, he is by
an optimistic man with a ready grin, and it felt somewhat unreal to talk
to him in his Cornish mill house last week, with a coffee cup to hand and
on the feeder outside the study window, about such a dark future. You had to
He too saw the strangeness of it. "I'm usually a cheerful sod, so I'm not
about writing doom books", he said. "But I don't see any easy way out".
His predictions are simply based on the inevitable nature of the Gaian
"If on Mars, which is a dead planet, you doubled the carbon dioxide, you
predict accurately what the temperature would rise to", he said.
"On the Earth, you can't do it, because the biota [the ensemble of life
reacts. As soon as you pump up the temperature, everything changes. And at
moment the system is amplifying change.
"So our problem is that anything we do, like increasing the carbon dioxide,
mucking about with the land, destroying forests, farming too much, things
that - they don't just produce a linear increase in temperature, they
an amplified increase in temperature.
"And it's worse than that. Because as you approach one of the tipping
the thresholds, the extent of amplification rapidly increases and tends
"The analogy I use is, it's as if we were in a pleasure boat above the
Falls. You're all right as long as the engines are going, and you can get
it. But if the engines fail, you're drawn towards the edge faster and
and there's no hope of getting back once you've gone over - then you're
"And the uprise is just like that, the steep jump of temperature on Earth.
It is exactly like the drop in the Falls."
Professor Lovelock's unique viewpoint is that he is just not looking at this
that aspect of the Earth's climate, as are other scientists; he is looking
the whole planet in terms of a different discipline, control theory.
"Most scientists are not trained in control theory. They follow Descartes,
they think that everything can be explained if you take it down to its
and then build it up again.
"Control theory looks at it in a very different way. You look at whole
and how do they work. Gaia is very much about control theory. And that's why
spot all these positive feedbacks."
I asked him how he would sum up the message of his new book.
He said simply: "It's a wake-up call".
Copyright 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
Bill Totten http://billtotten.blogspot.com/
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