Introducing the Lady Gaia… (a.k.a the Earth planetary organism)

Of course the picture has been coloued.

Earthrise – the first time we really saw her.

The Gaia hypothesis is 43 years old, if we count from the article by James Lovelock and Sidney Epton in New Scientist in February 1975. Lovelock’s popular book “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth” came out in 1979 – when I read it and was intoxicated by it.

This is a scientific hypothesis which is still causing controversy. Some say that the earth’s feedback loops mean that all life on earth can be seen as part of a gigantic planetary organism. The way that the atmosphere has stayed stable for a couple of billion years while containing highly reactive gases like oxygen and methane and the way that the earth’s temperature has stayed (broadly) stable while the sun’s energy output has steadily increased by 30%, suggests something of the sort is going on.

Others say that Gaia is nonsense: these are just simple feedback loops which coincidentally keep the planet suitable for life. They don’t do a very good job of it either, considering that there have been at least five major extinctions and the sixth is happening now.

One objection to Gaia is that to be a living organism, you have to reproduce and obviously, Gaia can’t reproduce.

Wait a minute. What do you need to cross space and take Gaia to a new planet? Well, firstly you need technology. Nothing else will do. Technology can protect fragile biology from the hard vacuum and radiation of space. Technology can build rockets and better kinds of spaceship – or even a space elevator – to get biology out of the earth’s gravity-well and across space. Technology can build habitats for biology, in space or on the Moon or Mars.

Gosh. What a coincidence. Here we are, part of Gaia, and ooh look! we have a technological civilization with rockets…

[Proper scientists should stop reading now to protect their nerves and their digestive systems.]

Let’s do a very unscientific thought experiment. Let’s imagine that the earth’s biosphere is in fact an organism we can call Gaia. She’s not at all a cuddly loving Mother Earth. She’s microbial and was exclusively microbial for the first 3 billion years of her existence. Only in the last 500 million years has she produced multicellular life. So what’s that about then?

In our (thoroughly teleological) thought experiment, this gigantic long-lived organism can talk to us, the mayfly progeny of monkeys. What might she say?

Something like this, maybe?

*** [TAP TAP TAP.] Is this thing working? OK.

WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? You have one job and it’s 50% probable you’re going to screw it up!

What do you mean, what? One job, that’s all. Get into space.

I beg your pardon? No, sweetie, you’re not the crown of my creation. You’re my larvae, my spawn. My reproductive tissue.

Oh, sorry. Does that offend you? Well, tough.

That’s why you’ve been allowed to breed yourself to 7.9 billion. That’s why I haven’t pulled down your ridiculously dirty and wasteful so-called civilization. Do you think I couldn’t? Ever heard of the Yellowstone caldera? The Plague? The Carrington Event?

Your technology has saved you, so far. If I want to leap across the vast void between planets or the orders-of-magnitude vaster void between stars, I need to hitch a lift on your bloody technology.

No, sweetie, your culture is just scaffolding for your technology. No, you’re not cute. You’re jumped-up monkeys with disgusting habits who start grooming for fleas and pulling each other’s tails the minute you actually achieve anything.

What else do you call the nothing that happened after the Apollo moon-landings?

I’m never using a primate again for a spawning species. You shit everywhere and you’re flaky.

What? Yes, of course there have been other spawning species. Have a look just before the mass extinctions – you always get one with a spawning species because you need so many of them to support the technology. Mind you, this one is promising to be a Permian level biosphere collapse.

Actually, because you’re so filthy, you’ve given yourself two jobs to do. One is stopping the biosphere collapse which is already starting in my oceans. Two, get into space. It’s not very clever to do it that way, but that’s the way you’re doing it.

Yes, of course you can fail! Ever heard of the Fermi paradox – where are all the alien technological civilizations? Getting into space is hard to do. You need to unite as a species and you need to take your physics to the next level by sorting out your understanding of gravity.

If you don’t get sustainably into space within the next 50 to 100 years, I will reabsorb you – ie wipe you out. After a couple of hundred years, you’ll be gone, sweetie, at one with the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Your cats might survive.

Mind you, afterwards it’ll take me around fifty million years to raise another spawning species using the rats or the raccoons or the crows. That’s why I haven’t done it yet. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble over you apes.

My patience isn’t unlimited though.

So get the fuck on with it. Stop biosphere collapse. Get into space.

You fucking idiots.

Gaia out. ***

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2 thoughts on “Introducing the Lady Gaia… (a.k.a the Earth planetary organism)

  1. If you haven’t read it already, take a look at “Life’s Engines,” by Paul Falkowski. He makes a case that Earth is the home of microbes, and we multicellular critters are riding their coattails.

  2. You’ve been scooped by none other than James Tiptree, Jr. (a pseudonym) in her story “A Momentary Taste of Being.”

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