GAIA Thinking - An Introduction


Every now and again I make reference to GAIA thinking and I wait for a request to explain what I mean by the phrase.  Nearly always, my auditor doesn't ask.  Sometimes I explain anyway.  So, despite your not really asking me (well, no, by clicking here, you've asked me to explain), here it is: a brief introduction to GAIAn thinking.

Gaia (or Gaea) is the name of the daughter of Chaos, the sister / wife of Uranus (Sky, Heaven), the Greek goddess of the Earth, Mother Earth if you will.  Gaian thinking, then, is thinking about the planet Earth (terra-centricity, Earth-centricity, planet-centricity).  Related to Gaian thinking is Environmentalism, a political issue with the sex appeal of a moose, which it is often seen as protecting, at your personal expense.  As a political issue, Environmentalism is not high on the national agenda, as witness Al Gore's surprising underplaying of it in the Presidential campaign of 2000.  Contrariwise, GAIAn thinking is not a political issue of small weight, it is the ONLY issue of consequence for people whose vision is wide enough to contain it.  The economy, jobs, terrorism, Osama, Iraq and Saddam, racism at home and abroad, abortion, all these, in the mind of a Gaian thinker are matters of small moment in comparison to the issue of whether humankind can survive on this planet for another 50-100 years.  

The smart money is that humankind will not survive the passing of another century.  Why not?  Certainly, if you are along for the ride, speeding along at an exciting clip, clearly there is no need to change course if no one sees a fatal cliff ahead.  Certainly the alcoholic who doesn't see his own addiction is not bound to go dry anytime time soon.  As evidence of the patient not knowing how sick he is, do you, dear reader, imagine that humanity's days are numbered, and that the number is not very large?  "OK," you say, "I  may not see that my species is doomed, but you sure haven't made the case for the seriousness of this issue."

Let's hit it!

The beginning of agriculture, some 10,00 years ago, marks the beginning of mankind's control over his food supply, life itself.  Hunter-gatherers lived well when there was enough food to go around, and they starved when there wasn't.  Agriculture put US in control of our food supply, for the most part.  Agriculture was, in consequence, responsible for our numbers growing; as hunter-gatherers, our population had pretty much remained steady for a million years.  Agriculture guaranteed a steady, even growing, food supply, so human numbers began to increase, only checked by war, famine, and other catastrophes.

The Industrial Revolution brought technology to agriculture.  While our numbers had increased since the coming of agriculture, the Industrial Revolution brought together ambition, wealth, power, and technology, and allowed us to increase our numbers even faster.  The only down side to this population explosion was that more people needed more land to live on, and to grow food on, be it animal or vegetable.  So our increasing numbers require us to populate more land, land that was considered not desirable just a few years back, in order to support our increasing numbers.  Another consequence of this was that land that was once wild, that supported wild creatures, now would be tamed, and wild creatures deprived of their homes.  It's just a matter of time before we need all the land to live on and to grow food on, leaving no land for wild, non-human habitation.  And it's just a matter of time before we need to move humans off the land in order to grow the food that other humans need.

The Atomic Age ushered in the bomb.  In the Cold War, the two superpowers had an arsenal of more than 50,000 warheads each.  Since the end of the Cold War, most of those weapons have been disarmed, but there are now new players, some not even of nation status, who have access to nuclear weapons.  And some of these human beings have no problem imagining a planet without THEM, as long as they get US first.  An increasing number of poor people world-wide are turning their eyes US-ward as the sole Axis of Evil.  We have the wealth, the power, the weapons of Mass Destruction (and we're the only ones who have ever used them), and it is no surprise WE are feared.  And while we think we have learned restraint in the use of these monstrous weapons, it is apparent that our new enemies have no such restraint.

Industrial Technology brought Americans and much of Europe an ever-higher standard of living, but it also brought us environmental poisoning.  Rachel Carson, in her publication of Silent Spring in 1962, brought to our attention for the first time the unintended harmful consequences of Industrialism.  In our attempts to control the mosquito population, we were poisoning ourselves; in our successful mining of the land for gas, oil and ore, we have raped it and left it ugly and festering; in our hunger for paper and wood products, we have leveled forests, destroyed countless animal and plant species and reduced the planet's capacity to put oxygen into the air and absorb poisonous CO2; in our relentless production of electricity, we have scarred the landscape with ugliness; in our need of light, we have destroyed the night sky and lost contact with our nightly neighbors, leaving only stupid horror movies in its place; in our need for energy for our lives, we have created Cancer; in our love of personal mobility, read: automobiles, we have made a pact with the devil that costs some 50,000 lives per year; in our alpha's greed, we have made stress the #1 killer of non-alphas world-wide.  It sure seems that we are creating a world where what exists is humans, their pets, their domesticated food animals, and insects.  If no gorilla, can man be far behind?

The planet's consumption of natural gas and petroleum will peak in a few years, and our reserves will last us less than 50 years more, barring a consumption collapse.  May we not need these energy sources to develop the next energy source, or will we continue to consume it as though the problem will take care of itself in the nick of time?

The advance of artificial intelligence and robotics, and of bio-engineering and cloning are threats of unimaginable magnitude; while the blessings of atomic energy may have kept pace with its curse, we have had time to control our use of it.  Will we have time to control these new promising genies after we carelessly, inevitably, let them out of the bottle?  I am not at all suggesting that we ought not to go down these exciting paths, just that they have dangers, unseen dangers, and that the forces that would profit from these technological miracles have little concern for their dangers, and if they did care they are not the rational choice for who should choose how to direct these genies.  Men of bad will will doubtless aim our miracles at us as long as we hoard them for our own benefit, just as Osama's minions threw our own technology at us to bring down the Two Towers of our industrial might.  But Osama is not the biggest threat, to the USA or to the planet; the next Jack Welch, an American CEO, wanting nothing more or less than the best for his shareholders, will commit decision after decision without regard for the consequences for his actions.  Why should he care?  20 years ago, General Electric was ordered to clean up the poisons it had dumped into the Hudson River.  It has spent more money on lawyers than it would have had to spend to clean up its waste and it has cleaned up nothing.  It maintains that it would only mess up the river more if it were to clean it up now after delaying over 20 years.  And the problem, dear reader, dear voter, dear concerned citizen, is that YOU have not demanded that they clean up their mess, indeed if you are a GE stockholder, you may be fine with this.

In other words, you and your brothers and sisters all see the problems, but they are not your problems, they are for the folks of Three-Mile Island to solve, for the locals living elsewhere to solve, living in the communities, where the same industry that is destroying the planet underneath their feet, is the sole provider of JOBS in that blighted area.

The rape and murder of the Earth, the poisoning of the air and the rivers, the exhaustion of the world's ocean food, all these "problems" that aim at our own extinction, what the American Museum of Natural History calls the Sixth Extinction, none of these problems are ameliorated by your puny attempts to recycle, these problems, say I, will never cease until YOU, dear reader, comprehend to your core that your very children are being exploited, infected, poisoned, maimed and killed by other human beings who understand fully that the consequences of their decisions are their profits at your expense.  While you do not act, you encourage.  Do you think that your personal boycott of an Earth poisoner has any effect at all?  You are a collaborator, as much as a 1940's German who was not part of the Resistance.  Will your children ever forgive you, when they know that you knew and that you let it go on?  Wars costing tens of millions of innocent lives have been fought for less of an issue than saving the Earth.

We will prevail, humanity, the wild, will survive, but not because we got religion.  Rational men, and certainly most large corporations' CEOs are rational men, respond to the threat of ceratin long-term incarceration or the real chance of retributive vengeance.  The rapacity of the Earth will cease in a moment when men take the planet's danger seriously, and personally, and act accordingly, as any father would to protect his own children.  Until then, all of humanity is in a race car, going at ever increasing speed toward a cliff with only certain death on the other side.  The wild will breathe a sigh of relief when we are gone.  We are not an evil species; we are a powerful species who has never learned to control our power, to think beyond next week and to take on the devil even if it might discomfit us.

God help us.  We will prevail, we must prevail.  But what will we have lost, forever, because it was more comfortable to be ignorant, stupid, careless -- and cowardly?

You wanted to know what GAIAn thinking was?  Now you know one man's sense of it.  Not many of us counsel what I seem to suggest, but we are all very concerned that man seems hell-bent on his own destruction.  We don't see this as a mere political issue (like racism, poverty or war), we see this as a matter of life or death.