Saturday, 18 July 2009

the future of Gaia

I have been dipping into the dark world of James Lovelock - here are some quotes, where he explains his vision of our future:

From his 2008 interview in The Guardian, The Science of Climate Change :
There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly.

From :
Life regulates the Earth’s atmosphere and climate to keep it habitable. It is as simple as that.
The catastrophe threatened by global heating is far worse than any war, famine,
or plague in living memory; worse even than global nuclear war. Much of the lush and comfortable Earth we now enjoy is about to become a hot and barren desert.
The intolerably hot world soon to come can support only a remnant of today’s burgeoning humanity, and the survivors will be driven to the cooler regions of the Arctic and to a few continental oases and islands
Green concepts of sustainable development and renewable energy are far too late to have any value
we are at the end of our tether and the rope, whose weave defines our fate, is about to break.

From :
My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive, and clearly anything alive can enjoy good health, or suffer disease. Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news.

The climate centres around the world .. have reported the Earth's physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth's family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.

Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence. It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 percent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves.

Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space. This 'global dimming' is transient and could disappear in a few days like the smoke that it is, leaving us fully exposed to the heat of the global greenhouse. We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.

By failing to see that the Earth regulates its climate and composition, we have blundered into trying to do it ourselves, acting as if we were in charge. By doing this, we condemn ourselves to the worst form of slavery. If we chose to be the stewards of the Earth, then we are responsible for keeping the atmosphere, the ocean and the land surface right for life. A task we would soon find impossible - and something before we treated Gaia so badly, she had freely done for us.

To understand how impossible it is, think about how you would regulate your own temperature or the composition of your blood. Those with failing kidneys know the never-ending daily difficulty of adjusting water, salt and protein intake. The technological fix of dialysis helps, but is no replacement for living healthy kidneys.

.. We cannot pollute the air or use the Earth's skin - its forest and ocean ecosystems - as a mere source of products to feed ourselves and furnish our homes... Those ecosystems must be left untouched because they (are) part of the living Earth.

So what should we do? First, we have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act; and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can. Civilisation is energy-intensive and we cannot turn it off without crashing, so we need the security of a powered descent... We could grow enough to feed ourselves on the diet of the Second World War, but the notion that there is land to spare to grow biofuels, or be the site of wind farms, is ludicrous. We will do our best to survive, but sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of emissions. The worst will happen and survivors will have to adapt to a hell of a climate.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that Gaia will lose as much or more than we do. Not only will wildlife and whole ecosystems go extinct, but in human civilisation the planet has a precious resource. We are not merely a disease; we are, through our intelligence and communication, the nervous system of the planet. Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space, and begins to know her place in the universe.

We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone, and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia. We must do it while we are still strong enough to negotiate, and not a broken rabble led by brutal war lords. Most of all, we should remember that we are a part of it, and it is indeed our home.

Lovelock is a scientist, and has focussed on global warming and on the damaging effect our "civilization" is having on the planet. He is not an economist and so his vision does not factor in the global economic collapse that is now under way, which will usefully restrain our raping of the planet, and cull our population to a more sustainable level. Likewise he is not a mystic, and so his vision does not include perception of the subtle rising tide of spirituality that is now counter-balancing the retreating gross tide of materialism, giving hope for us indeed becoming "the heart and mind of the Earth". Accordingly his vision is more dark and terminal than mine. Thank heaven for global economic and political collapse! The actions and behaviour of humanity are part of the natural systems of Gaia, and we will ourselves, unwittingly, bring about the changes that are required to renew our planetary home. There will be many breakages along the way, but "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs".

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

more for less

Thanks to Sharon Astyk for pointing out that Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, is seeing things much as we are . Scott writes:
Cheapatopia is a hypothetical city, designed from scratch to be an absurdly cheap place to live with a ridiculously high quality of life... the era of ridiculous consumption is over ... If we want universal healthcare, and a decent standard of living for the exploding population of seniors, the average household will have to learn how to make do with less. But in doing so, there is no reason we can't be happier at the same time, so long as we do it right... Cheapatopia puts a big emphasis on entertainment and social interaction. If you have that, plus health, safety, and financial security, you might be willing to give up the over-consumption and needless complexity of your old life... I believe the next big change in society will involve simplifying our lives, getting rid of the waste and inconvenience that we drifted into, and finding meaning through more social involvement... Cheapatopians work at home or within the city, so commuting is minimal.
This brings to mind the refrains of James Howard Kunstler about the death of suburbia: he foresees the "end of happy motoring" whereby every aspect of our lives that is predicated on private motoring will fail, as oil becomes unaffordable for increasingly impoverished western populations. He sees city centres regenerating into places where people live and shop and walk to work. Anywhere urban that does not have public transport within walking distance will become a ghetto. Where there is not efficient rail transport, we will be left with only rural villages, based around smaller scale farming, and compact urban centres, where people can transport themselves by foot. These are the living environments that provide the highest quality of life: frequent social interaction with neighbors and fellow citizens, a palpable community spirit, and no tedious commuting. Suburbia will become ghost-towns and ghettos.

Dmitri Orlov sees water transport becoming more important, and home grown food. Having witnessed the breakup of the Soviet Union first hand he knows what happens when a political and economic system collapses: people become dependent on what they can do for themselves and for each other on a local level. This means growing our own food, even in city apartments, on balconies, window ledges, indoors. When the system collapsed in Cuba, they started growing food on road verges and anywhere they could: Cuba now leads the way in organic agriculture, and this happened through necessity, as they couldn't afford chemicals.

Sharon Astyk herself concentrates mainly on food and family: how to make do and mend, growing and storing our own food, organizing our lives so we are not dependent on the electric grid or on supermarkets, making the most of what we have through reuse and ingenuity.

All these writers emphasize that the quality of our lives is not dependent on money, income, or consumer goods. Fulfillment comes through our social interactions, through doing productive and useful work that benefits ourselves and our communities directly, through living in harmony with nature, through the robust health that comes from eating a healthy and natural diet, and so on. By rearranging the way we live and work, we can be much happier with much less.