The Death of Gaia
It is known scientifically that the Earth System, or Gaia if you will, is organized and functions similarly to other scales of biology, including organisms and old-growth forests. Gaia is a self-regulating, reproducing life-form, and as such is alive. As industrial human growth destroys Gaia’s naturally evolved ecosystem organs, the human family is failing to embrace a rich and truthful deep ecology understanding (long known by indigenous peoples) of a living Earth, risking biosphere collapse. Not enough progress is being made on sufficient ecological solutions to sustain Gaia such as protecting and restoring natural ecosytems (including a ban on old-growth forest logging), ending the use of fossil fuels, and ridding the world of war and inequity. Both powerful science deniers, as well as celebrity posers promoting shallow ecology, ensure Gaia’s demise for their own selfish benefit. Thus while Earth is alive, sadly she is dying.
Larry: [to Jennings, while high] Okay. That means that our whole solar system could be, like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being. [Jennings nods] This is too much! That means one tiny atom in my fingernail could be–
Jennings: Could be one little tiny universe. – Animal House
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who!
“Earth – like organic life across scales – is alive yet needlessly dying as human industrial growth overwhelms natural ecosystems.” – Dr. Glen Barry
Earth is a living organism some call Gaia. This Earth System – all life’s one shared biosphere – is composed of coupled ecosystems that cycle energy and matter, self-regulating like all organic life.
Across scales of biological phenomena there exist discontinuities; boundaries which can be abstracted, that differentiate a life form. Throughout the continuum of cells, organisms, plant communities, and even natural ecosystems, many entities can be said to be alive. The Earth is the penultimate life-form.
Gaia is alive.
Think of land and natural vegetational communities as similar to tissue in an animal, blood and water are synonymous, the atmosphere like cellular fluid. Wildlife including humans is a special type of cell. All life across scale is coded in DNA, the original programming language.
Earth, like the human body, is intricately perfect; both engineered through epics of iterative evolution to be resilient and reproduce.
Earth’s reproductive cycle can best be thought of as the re-radiation of species diversity post mass extinction upon the same framework of inert non-organic Earth. By such a measure Earth is only a handful of generations old. Or perhaps Earth’s reproduction involves exo-biology seeding of planets through rare dispersion events. In either case the Earth system reproduces.
As originally devised in James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis”, the conception of a living Earth goes beyond metaphor; and is a self-evident, emergent property of natural ecosystems’ cycles. Cells, microbes, forests, soil, oceans, water, air, plants, and wildlife are all miraculously alive, even as they create the conditions for life at other levels of organization.
It is profoundly beautiful that life begets life. For far too long the concept of living natural ecosystems has been denied and denigrated. A naturally evolved old-growth forest ecosystem is no less an organism than you or me, or Gaia. Such complex, tightly-coupled super-organisms make life possible.
Let me be clear: cells are not organisms, nor are old-growth forests exactly like the biosphere, yet they are remarkably similar. Each are bounded, with sub-systems cycling energy and matter, to remain intact (alive) while reproducing.
Earth – like organic life across scales – is alive yet needlessly dying as industrial growth overwhelms natural ecosystems.
Natural ecosystems are being murdered in a plague of democratic resource gluttony. In a relatively short time geologically, industrialism radiated from Northern Europe in waves of ecological colonialism. The concept that nature exists only as resources to be consumed is now universally embraced.
Millions of year old natural ecosystems that constitute Gaia’s living flesh continue to be liquidated in an ecocidal death wish misconstrued as “development”.
Under such circumstances of runaway exponential growth – amidst resource scarcity driven perma-war and grotesque inequity – “certifying” natural ecosystem destruction, or waxing eloquently as one over-consumes, is even more dangerous than denying climate, ecology, and other scientific truths.
Donald Trump’s fact free world of anti-science, authoritarian demagoguery, and Scott Walker’s evisceration of education while stifling climate and conservation science; are equally as dangerous as Rainforest Action Network benefactor Chris Noth’s (Mr. Big) old-growth mahogany laced bar (aptly named “The Cutting Room”), and Leonardo DiCaprio prattling on about the reality of climate change from the back of private jets and yachts. Each in their own way are colluding in Gaia’s murder for personal benefit.
Old-growth forest logging must end. Natural ecosystems be restored. Fossil fuels ended. A steady state economy achieved. And equity, peace, and justice embraced.
Or Gaia dies. And being ends.
Only profound, radical, science-based social change that embraces a deep ecology vision of a living Earth, by reversing natural ecosystem loss, will prove adequate to avoid biosphere collapse.