Patrick Moore, the former head of Greenpeace, displayed the best and fastest briefing I have ever seen on the entire history of the earth’s climate and its relationship to CO2. This was at Moses Znaimer’s Idea City last year.
I had not been aware that the earth has recently (last few million years) come close to a CO2 level at which plant life dies from want of carbon dioxide. Now humans are busily pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and thereby saving the earth from catastrophic plant death.
The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.
I confess I am attracted to the Gaia Hypothesis, and I believe (that is the word, believe) that we are a part of the picture and do not stand outside of it merely because we are a conscious species. Indeed we may be more fully implicated in Gaia precisely because we are a conscious species.
Here is what Gaia would be thinking:
Facts: Chicxulub asteroid strikes earth 62 million years ago and destroys dominance of large reptiles over next few million years. Out of Gaia’s control. How to react? Do nothing and let time pass.
Mammals emerge as dominant taxon. Furry and warm blooded, they invade ecological niches impenetrable to cold blooded species.
Indian plate strikes Asian plate 33 million years ago Himalayas thrust upwards. Monsoon rains pour down upon impenetrable mountain barrier. Too much CO2 is absorbed from atmosphere into the water, as CO2 striking limestone turns into carbolic acid. Earth’s CO2 decline accelerates.
Glaciation increases in terms of duration, extent and severity.
Gaia: I/we/she/it am getting colder, because too much CO2 is being absorbed into the oceans and the rocks, and too little is in the atmosphere. Ice ages too long, solar output will not fix the problem. Anyway the Sun and I are barely on speaking terms.
Pause while Gaia thinks for a million years.
Gaia: Why don’t I/we/she/it find a way of releasing the trillions of tons of CO2 locked in the earth’s crust? Options: a) increase volcanic activity b) evolve a species that will burn the immense reserves of carbon stored in earth’s crust, or c) wait for a giant asteroid to rearrange the surface of the earth and allow for the emergence of new species.
Decision:All I/we/she/it got from the asteroid were smelly clever rodents and fur bearing tree climbers. Volcanic activity is tried and true but that might require too much heat loss from my core. Hmmn…. What about those apes? Can we make them more clever? Let the cold continue. That will dry out their jungles and force some out into the savanna. Let’s see what happens….
A million years later, in the blink of Gaia’s innumerable eyes, the apes are the top predators, part vegetarian, part carnivore. They think they are running the planet. They are burning fossil fuels to run their economy. CO2 goes up, plant life recovers, the threat of plant death is removed, ice ages may diminish in duration and severity.
Gaia thinks: okay, I/we/she/it have got the CO2 level back up to what I/we/she/it need them to be. Now how do I get the apes’ population under control? I/we/she/it know! Birth control and prosperity!
Gaia is a complete empiricist. She uses whatever can be used to stabilize herself in her comfort zone, including these new-fangled apes.
It is a good story, isn’t it? Maybe it is also true. Of course, it is also possible that Gaia is but an emanation of an even larger Creator, and He/She/It is driving the process at an even more gigantic scale. Maybe Chicxulub asteroid catastrophe was a ‘forcing’ event, as the ecobabbulists like to say. Plans within plans.