By Jack Balkwill
Source: Dissident Voice
Decades ago James Lovelock constructed a principle called the Gaia hypothesis, contending that a biosphere teeming with life works together with inorganic matter to self-regulate conditions for maintaining a livable planet.
The oxygen levels in our air are maintained, and the salinity of the seas – everything that’s needed to keep conditions within the zones which nurture life on the planet. This is a theory embraced by many deep environmentalists because it offers hope for the future of life forms on the planet.
When one creature (such as man) gets to be so out of control that it threatens the other life forms, Gaia, or Mother Earth, pushes back toward a healthy balance, according to some theorists (the Gaia principle has many variations).
In the ancient Greek religion, before Zeus was king of the gods in the classical period, or Zeus’ father Cronus was king of the gods, or Cronus’ father Uranus was king of the gods, there was Gaia, the earth mother, who created the heavens, the various gods, and man. Gaia regulated the growing of crops, healed the sick, and was the earth itself to her followers.
Many of the most ancient religions around the world had as their chief deity a female, and my guess is because they reasoned that since it is the female who gives birth, a creator must be female.
The universe within us
Each of us humans is a microcosm of the Gaia principle. Within us, we have about a hundred trillion unique creatures which do not share our DNA. Cells containing our DNA only number about ten trillion, so they are vastly outnumbered. The microbes within us are in many forms — bacteria, fungi, archaea and viruses.
When our microbes are out of balance, it can be life-threatening, so a major function of our immune system is to regulate them, to keep one species from over reproducing, just as, in the Gaia theory, life forms are regulated within the massive biosphere.
If, for example, Candida reproduces to a high level, our immune system will try to destroy enough of it to get back to a balance. Candida at normal levels may actually be beneficial, and is thought to attack some harmful invaders. At extreme levels of overgrowth Candida may become deadly to us.
Most of the life forms within us are friendly, and we would die without them. They have a great many functions, working together to keep us alive. In the end, if we die, they no longer have a home.
And most of the life forms outside of us are also beneficial, aiding Mother Nature in maintaining a delicate balance.
Oak trees have dropped their heavy acorns for millions of years, right beside their trunks. In such a place, the acorn has little chance of growing with no sunlight under the canopy of mother tree. But squirrels are happy to carry the acorns away from the tree to bury them in case they are needed for food during an extreme winter. The squirrels don’t eat all of what they bury most years, giving the oak an opportunity to spread its genetic material.
In return the oak provides a home for the squirrel, which builds nests in oak trees and eats the acorns. There are interactions between species all over the planet with which we are not yet familiar, but it is clear that species depend on one another for survival, just as the microbes within us are maintained in a balance that sustains life.
A flower may provide pollen to the bee, and in return the bee pollinates other flowers, benefiting both species.
But sometimes man gets in the way
Who would think a massive animal like a moose would rely on the lowly beaver for its well being? When beaver hats were a popular fad, beaver were killed off in such large numbers that moose began to starve. One of the favorite foods of moose is the shoots growing in wetlands, and without beavers to dam streams creating wetlands, moose began to go hungry and started feeding on tree bark, killing trees.
Of course, it was inadvertent that a fad of humans started killing off moose. But we’ve done such things throughout our history and have more control over nature than we realize.
When sperm whales were slaughtered to near extinction, giant squid began to rise up to the surface in the oceans, no longer having to fear their primary enemy, the sperm whales that fed upon them. Giant squid previously stayed in deep parts of the ocean to avoid sperm whales. We have no idea what happens in the long term when a creature like the giant squid, with a ravenous appetite, begins feeding in a part of the biosphere from which it was banned for millions of years, but certainly it must upset the food chain.
It is thought that some animals, such as mammoths, became extinct at the hand of man. Such creatures disappeared in North America about the time it was populated by humans.
Whether directly or indirectly, we are responsible for the extinction of a great many species.
Intelligence, whatever that is
Many people seem to think that humans are somehow superior creatures. We have a formula for determining intelligence which predicts that a species is intelligent when its brain is large enough to take care of all of the functions of its body, with something left over. That something left over is intelligence. So it’s largely brain size in proportion to body size that suggests degrees of intelligence.
There is an old belief that elephants have a pea brain, but it is not true. An elephant has a large brain, but needs most of it for maintaining its massive bodily functions, so what’s left over may not be great intelligence, but the elephant is certainly an intelligent animal.
The cetaceans, the large toothed whales, all have brains larger than human brains. Some scientists have speculated that they may be more intelligent than humans.
When people say, “But cetaceans haven’t invented nuclear weapons,” they are showing, perhaps, a flaw in the human being, not a comparative virtue.
Those who support the theory that cetaceans are more intelligent theorize that they may understand that being more in harmony with nature is the intelligent thing to do for long term survival, rather than making automobiles which pollute the planet and the many other destructive things humans do.
At any rate the other creatures appear to help maintain the balance of life within the biosphere, interrelating in complex ways, while humans have reproduced out of control, crowding out other life forms, taking more than our share of resources, and polluting the planet.
So another way to look at the Gaia theory is to describe it as a kind of immune system for the biosphere. When it has an organism that is overpopulating and causing other organisms to die, that organism must be regulated, just as for a Candida overgrowth or cancer within a human.
The traditional way that Mother Nature has regulated the human population is with disease. It worked well up to the twentieth century, when humans began to poison their drinking water with chlorine or other agents to kill off water-borne diseases, which had previously wiped out the populations of entire cities.
Will humans be brought under control by Mother Nature?
In the 1970’s there was a movement to reduce the human population, quite popular with many. I donated to that cause, and was surprised to see it vanish. I suspected that it was killed by the capitalists, who have a vision that the population must continue to grow for there to be more consumers, hence, more profit. Capitalists insist that “growth” continue without considering finite limits consistent with the size of the planet.
So how will Gaia maintain the delicate balance with the human organism out of control? She might introduce a new disease for which we have no antidote. It was the first thing I thought of when the AIDS epidemic began decades ago. A perfect killer, to destroy the immune function, allowing almost anything to then kill the host. But mankind seems to now have that disease under control.
Or Mother Nature might allow us to commit suicide by climate change from our nasty habit of spewing carbon emissions, and other anti-environmental things we are doing in destroying our little blue planet. We are releasing massive toxins into the environment in the form of dioxins from paper and plastic making, radiation from nuclear power plants and bomb making, insecticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals.
A recent report by The World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation stated that at the current rate, the weight of plastic in the oceans will exceed the weight of the fish. When I heard this a few weeks ago I posted on Facebook, “The epitaph for human beings will read ‘they thought they were an intelligent species.’”
As an old man I take heart that young people seem to be far more aware of the degradation of the planet’s environment, giving me hope that they will find a solution and assist Mother Gaia in her quest for purification and renewal.
The alternative is to leave her no choice but to see us as a cancer that must be eliminated for the good of the whole.