Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gaia

I wrote on James Lovelock's Gaia Theory in 2005. It is a very interesting theory which states that the whole earth is an organism, Gaia, which could regulate itself. Now, when interviewed by CNN in April 2008, he said that we had done sufficient damage to upset the balance of the present world. Although Gaia could live on, she would be due for another drastic change, one that human might be excluded from the equation. The climate crisis would put the human race to the test, that the world population could shrink to 500 million and would congregate only in small areas which were still inhabitable. I append below an extract of the article, or you may wish to read the full CNN report.

His view strengthens the point made by the 100 scientists in their joint letter to the Secretary-General of UN and copied to many heads of states regarding the mistake made by IPCC. The point is that we cannot fight climate change, but need to adapt to it. The adaptation needs world effort as quickly as possible, and we may be losing time on the wrong path.

If the prediction of James Lovelock is correct, then the human race may be facing the threat of extinction in this century, if not in the next few hundred years. What we should do now is to prepare the best chance of sustainability for those survived. We are facing the danger of losing arable land, potable water and clean air. It all comes down to a sustainable clean energy which could help build habitable havens with synthetic food, water and air. It is sci-fi material and we need a lot of creativity, innovation and will power.

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Gaia straits: Planetary doctor says condition terminal
By Paul Willis For CNN 18 April 2008
(Extract)

James Lovelock is philosophical about the climate crisis. The 88-year-old scientist and originator of Gaia theory, has reached a bleak prognosis: the world as we know it is ceasing to exist. The impact of humanity has set in train processes that, according to Lovelock, are irreversible. Pollution, overpopulation and carbon emissions have already pushed the earth's delicate regulatory systems beyond the point of no return, he says, and steps to address the climate crisis can do no more than slow down the inevitable. "What we did was to pull the trigger in all of those things and set in course a motion, a change in the Earth, which is to all intents and purposes unstoppable," he tells CNN.

The legacy for future generations is a world where droughts and extreme weather are commonplace, large portions of the planet are turned to uninhabitable desert and billions of people destined to die off. He has predicted that by 2040 the Sahara will be encroaching on Europe, and by 2100 there will be only 500 million of us surviving close to the poles. It is a grim account of what's in store, and at odds with a large portion of scientific opinion that contends that if we take action now to cut carbon emissions, we can at least mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change.

The British scientist's seemingly fanciful assessments of our world have proved right in the past. In the 1960s he came up with a revolutionary understanding of how the world works. All living things, he theorized, have a regulatory effect on the Earth's environment, working together as one complete "superorganism" to sustain life. In other words, life itself creates the conditions for life. He named this holistic view of the planet: Gaia, after the Greek goddess of the Earth. At first embraced by the New Age and environmental movement, the essential truth of the Gaia hypothesis - that the Earth regulates itself - has since been adopted by the scientific mainstream.

According to Lovelock, the top down view of the planet as a whole system is why his predictions on climate change are more extreme, but also more accurate than those of leading scientific bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which he claims is limited in its assessment because it is made up of specialists whose focus is too narrow. "The IPCC is made up largely of atmospheric physicists who are good at predicting the weather, but I'm not so sure that they are very good at predicting the future of the Earth. Likewise, the biologists who should be working with them are working separately and have produced the Millennium Ecosystem Assessments Commission's report and that's quite different from the IPCC and it's mostly concerned with biodiversity and things like that."

Oddly however, he insists that he is himself an optimist by nature. He's philosophical about the extinction of the human race, viewing it as just another stage in the Earth's life cycle. "Humans always think of these things in grand and big terms, rather than as part of the natural course of events. There are all sorts of organisms that have evolved on the earth in its long, long four billion years of history. For example, organisms like the photo-synthesizers appeared and, ultimately turned the atmosphere into one with lots of oxygen in it ... all sorts of dreadful things must have happened when that change took place. "What we're doing is small beer compared with what has happened in the past, and that's why the earth is so robust and strong and will cope with it."

As an environmentalist, he is also surprisingly upbeat about humanity in spite of the apparent mess we've made of the planet. Without realizing it, he says, humans set into motion a train of events we didn't realize we were in no position to control. "We're a wonderfully valuable species to our planet," he says. "You see the great system has existed all those years and for the first time ever it's had people talking about it, and we're part of it. So it's beginning to understand its position in the universe." Humans may face an uncertain future but Gaia, it seems, will live on.
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