Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Concerning the Gaia Hypothesis

Concerning the Gaia Hypothesis (http://www.gaiatheory.org/):

Over the long term (billions of years), there is little that humanity can do to thwart the eventual consumption of Earth by an expanding Sun as it transitions to a red giant. Plus, the geologic record is clear regarding numerous periodic climate extremes that predate any human influence. In other words, the Gaia hypothesis (aka, the self-correcting myth) is doomed to discredit from the start. This is not to say that, in the interim, humanity cannot impact world climate in a positive, or negative, way, which in a sense gives limited credence to Gaia theory.

It is important to separate the concept of “climate” from that of “weather.” Weather is local and highly variable. Climate, at least in terms of the debate over climate change, is global and gradual. The extreme weather of the past few years might be due to the cumulative effect of climate change or it might be just the result of normal variation. According to climatologists, there is likely a tipping point (~450 ppm CO2) when runaway global warming will kick in, turning vast swaths of the middle latitudes to desert, or to swamp, depending on the model. In either case, much of coastal civilization would have to pack up and move due to sea rise. I believe we are moving inexorably toward that tipping point, and see no global consensus on how to avoid it, which is indicative of the human tendency to think short term. (Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.)

We (humanity) are fixated on economic growth. This fixation will doom us. Instead, we should be fixated on the one initiative that could save us: rein in population growth with a target world population of no more than several hundred million. Earth’s resources might be able to support that number over the next hundreds of millions of years. But this is a foolish hope: the alliance of greed, religion, and nationalism will work together to obscure the reality that Earth’s support structure is limited and finite. Even more foolish is the idea that the stars hold the key to avoiding humanity’s extinction through resettlement on a distant planet; but that is another story.

No comments:

Post a Comment