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Blog item: Gaia Responds: The Global Immune System

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10 comments, last: Apr-6-2009   Add a comment   Author:  PT (Mar-30-2009)    Play a Video
Categories: Philosophical & Quality of Life, Population Growth and Control, Sustainable Living, Wildlife and Nature

Screen shots from NASA's World Wind open source software (similar to Google Earth); click for larger imageGaia, also known as Planet Earth, has a problem.  That problem, as many see it, is over-exploitation, over-heating, and over-crowding.  The gradual changes in government and the growth of "green" activism are natural responses to that problem.  One can argue that the planet is responding to its need for balance, and that not only the plant and animal (non-human, that is) ecosystems are changing due to a planetary immune response, but that human society is also evolving in response to planet-wide needs.

The question I want to raise is whether the patient, Gaia or Planet Earth, will be saved by its immune response.  Just as with human illness, not every immune response is adequate to avoid severe consequences.  I should also define "saved" briefly, since the word could be interpreted in many ways.  In this paragraph, I am raising the question about whether the industrial-production and growth-based way of life with which we are familiar, certainly adjusted and reduced in scope but unchanged in its nature and underpinnings, can be "saved" by the responses that human beings will be offering towards that aim.

Those who look closely and with an open mind can not avoid seeing the signs of threatening change, in a vast variety of locations on Earth.  There are melting ice caps and glaciers, there is increased desertification of the earth's surface, average temperatures world-wide continue to rise, and clean drinking and farming water is becoming more and more a precious commodity, especially to those who do not have it.

I see the election of Barack Obama as another part of Gaia's immune system response.  You may argue that his election over the business-and-military-as-usual John McCain was due to the timing of the economic crisis occurring right before our election here in the USA.  But I would point out, as Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, Richard Heinberg, and many others have done, that the over-heating and over-exploitation (is there ever such a thing as the right amount of "exploitation") of the planet has led to both the economic crisis AND the unfolding environmental crisis.  The perpetual need to grow and conquer leads inevitably to instability and a dead end, as we hit the wall of the finite resources that the planet can provide.  No economic system, and no resource-based system, can continue to grow forever in a limited environment.

So, the same forces are behind the environment crisis and the economic crisis: the undying urge to grow and conquer.

For the first time ever in human history, we live in a global economy and a global resource pool.  Food, water, and mineral resources and products such as steel and aluminum are shipped world-wide.  This can be seen as a boon that allows a richer life for all, but when that system has a crisis, it means the entire developed world is in crisis – and even the hearts of Africa and Asia are for purposes of this discussion part of the developed world, because they are with a few exceptional pockets dependent on and enmeshed in the world economic system.

As Daniel Quinn points out, the current crisis does not occur for the "leavers" (Quinn's terminology for groups following a certain cultural approach that he defines).  The "leavers" continue to live a simple life, more-or-less as humans lived 10,000 years ago.  Quinn also points out that living in that manner does not mean living in grass huts, necessarily, but it does mean abandoning the attitude of perpetual growth and conquest, and replacing it with a vision of harmony between humanity and nature, humanity and planet.  The "leavers" however are a very small part of the planet today, as global industry has reached deep into formerly traditional lifestyle areas and made them dependent on food, clothing, and construction resources from other parts of the world.

So, to return to the question, does Gaia have a cold, which will soon be cured by a set of techno-fixes?  Or does the planet have extremely drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) which threatens to become a fatal attack?  Or is there a third, middle choice that describes the condition of the planet as serious but not quite as severe?

Terminology has arisen addressing some of the possible answers to this question: the "bright greens" are people who think that society will respond to the need of the day and of the century, and will develop technologies and processes that will provide new, clean sources of energy, will reduce greenhouse gas output, and will allow life to continue as before, even continuing to grow, with only a minor speed bump on the super-highway of societal progress.

On the other hand, the "dark greens" are people who feel that about 75% of the world's population will disappear through war, disease, starvation, and possibly through lower birth rate (Russia already has a declining population just due to birth rate and life span declines).  Dark greens feel it is too late for a solution to our problems, if there ever was one that real people and societies would willingly adopt.  The best we can do is to try and create social structures that can endure an onslaught of chaos and survive into a foreseen era of greater stability in, say, 100 years.  James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia concept, feels that a relatively small population of people will live near the Poles in a vastly overheated planet.

Well, which is it?  Where are we headed?

Honestly, no one can be completely SURE.

In terms of reducing risks, the rational response would be for governments and individuals to change lifestyles and policies quickly, to conserve the maximum possible of all resources, to provide incentives of all kinds for growth of individual, community, and utility-owned renewable power generation, and through education at all levels to change the view of ideal family size to better match the planet's carrying capacity.

I believe a social science and physical science view of the near- and mid-term future can identify three major problems with being optimistic about that near- and mid-term future (about the next 100 years): 1) people are not changing nearly quickly enough to have the needed effects on greenhouse gas creation and resource use, 2) even if we wanted to do so, there are very likely not enough resources on the planet to quickly stop using fossil fuels (to avoid more greenhouse gases) while continuing to have sufficient energy to farm intensively and irrigate and distribute food, and 3) in a world with less available energy and fertilizer and topsoil, we will not be able to feed the nearly 7 billion people currently on the planet; the number that can be supported is more likely to be between one to two billion people, even if we assume an orderly society that functions efficiently in the new reduced-energy, reduced-resource planet of 100 years from now.

Since there are large numbers of people already dying daily due to lack of clean water, I think it is very safe to say that the planet has worse than a cold.  I honestly don't know to a certainty whether we have contracted a disease that will leave us permanently (for thousands of years) crippled, but my belief is that even the richest countries will be affected in a dire way starting in the next 10 to 20 years.  After careful review, I have decided that the current economic crisis is an initial bump in a very slow moving collision between the ocean liner of world economics / world resource demands, and the giant iceberg (unmelted) of world ecosystem reality.  The true impact of that collision will unfold for years, gradually and at times nearly invisibly to the casual eye, but with some sudden changes, impossible to ignore, becoming visible along the way.

One of next big changes according to some projections is a collision between world oil production capacity and world demand, even taking place in the next year or two.  This will heat up the world political and military scene, and as the discrepancy between demand and available supply grows, the pressure on governments to acquire fuel will only become more severe.  At some point, even wealthy and strong countries will not be able to get the oil and other fuels they need to run smoothly, and thus we will enter more deeply into a time of great change.  Supplying of fertilizer, of irrigation capacity, of transportation, and of manufacturing basics, all will become difficult.

What is the value of thinking about and talking about all this?  It could be "depressing", although I do not feel depressed thinking of all this – I just want to change and improve the outcome as much as possible.

The value of this discussion is to help us each understand what we can change in our lives to help not only the planet, but ourselves and our communities, to plan for an oncoming reality.

The other, related value of this discussion is that when these predicted realities become widely visible, as I feel confident they will continue to do over the next several years, it will be important for leaders and decision-makers to have a realistic understanding of what is really going on, and therefore to have a framework guiding the most productive responses, so that we can do whatever possible to reduce suffering and to increase the health of the society that remains as it evolves under the great pressures of global change.

That awareness, at a personal level and all the way up to government, is what I believe will allow us to preserve some strong human and humane elements during and after the changes that will lead us all into a new world society over the next 100 years.

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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Apr-6-2009)   
How a representative answers the UFO question delineates how they think. If they automatically dismiss the subject because it is unpopular, then they are merely playing the same game as everyone else in government (CYA) and ignoring how much money disappears into the black holes of secrecy, whether the secrets are UFO related or just secret little pension funds for people who have built technology kingdoms from tax and drug money.
I am not defending the people selling water car devices. I am defending the technology. I encourage anyone with the skills to learn a little bit and build a test device themselves and see what they can do with it. I don't encourage anyone to buy one.
I won't say "trust me", but I have worked in the invention business for a lot of years, and most of the claims made on advertised sites are delusional, as you note, but this particular one doesn't lend itself to grand Madoff-type profits because the information is all out on the internet, and the majority of people working on the science of hydrogen-enhanced combustion are putting their work out in the open, not trying to get patents to protect themselves.
Water is an amazing substance and we have a lot to learn yet about what makes molecules stick together and how to do karate on them to break them apart with their own energy. It isn't magic or breaking the laws of the universe, just questioning whether we know what we think we know. The 'scientific community' still poo-poos cold fusion, but it keeps rearing it's head also: most recently with neutron emissions. It just doesn't do it when WE want it to happen. That's an experimental problem, which usually results from a theoretical misunderstanding of basic elements of the subject.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Apr-6-2009)   Web site

AG, your understanding of human nature, and other's viewpoints, needs a lot of help. Paul does not indict love or wisdom -- he is saying they are not strong enough in the great majority to control outcomes.

The water car advertisers sell the idea of water as a fuel; they then thinly disguise this notion by discussing hybrids and interactions. But the enter presentation is a lie for selfish gain, and if you don't see that as clearly as your nose in a mirror, I am sure you are also duped in your other thoughts. If the Madoffs in the world don't teach you about greed, what will?

Ironically, you attribute greed to all humanity, and yet where it is patently out of control you defend it. I think you should re-think your analysis.

UFOs do not matter. The concept matters far less than what our government, and our people, and all the governments and people, do about the social justice, economic, and environmental matters in front of us right now.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Apr-6-2009)   

On the hydrogen/water car: there is more to the physics of this than basic entropy and denial of the attempts. For one thing, adding hydrogen/hydroxyl to the combustion process catalytically improves the efficiency of the gasoline burning in the engine, and the system can, and does provide better gas mileage for many people.
On UFO's: there are secrets involved in this subject that the military and government are heavily involved in ensuring confusion reigns. Regardless of the reality which we don't know, the government has too many secrets about these subjects (hence the Auntiegrav moniker).
Love is a chemical response. Wisdom is overrated (see Chefurka's article about reason vs. rationality). Only direct feedback limits human behaviors. It isn't God or Love that gets people to behave: it's the priests and other people around them and their daily interactions. The localized systems which we set up precisely because we know we can't behave properly without them.
Buy less, buy local, make it yourself.
Regardless of my outrageous comments, the bottom line comes down to whether conclusions are from logic and observation or from ingrained prejudices and mistaken assumptions. I don't trust my assumptions any farther than the next guys: I question them. The only true Evil in the world is action taken based on Blind Faith: whether that blind faith is in gods, guns, governments, or gurus: or one's self.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Apr-6-2009)   Web site

@perspectives - indeed, they are far out. With all respect to you, to my trained eye they are a combination of charlatans and fools. One of the hoaxes seen for a long time now on the Internet is about vehicles and engines powered by water. The only way is by putting in an even greater amount of electric energy to release hydrogen gas and then burn it. Those who know the simplest basics of physics know that usable energy always decreases (entropy rules). However, there are those who are convinced and who have invested in water-driven engines. Thus the perpetrator of that fraud moves from being just a fool, to also being a charlatan.

The other schemes, UFOs, and so on, are all speculative, and who cares if there are aliens. Scientists have a right to look into that, and we can do so out of curiosity, but the only real solution to our problems lies in each of us, independent of engines and aliens.

What is needed is an evolving of human character to meet the challenges of the future. Not fancy games, dreams of aliens real or unreal, or anything else. All the major religions also got it right: all the cleverness, predicting the future, and amazing feats, mean nothing. Love (and its corollary wisdom) are the forces that change the planet.

@auntiegrav (aka AG): how many cups of coffee did you have this morning, and what additional stimulants may have been added therein? :--)
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Apr-6-2009)   

In re-reading this article, I have to inject my ego for a minute. If we are all connected as part of Gaia, and I just happen to be more logical and dispassionate than others, then my instincts crying out in favor of the FairTax (consumption tax) means that eventually, it will happen as more people realize the same logical conclusions that I have flawlessly arrived at. ;-)
I am an 'early adopter'. "You will be assimilated. Your uniqueness will be added to our own." -the Borg
  
Comment by: perspectives (Apr-3-2009)   Web site

I believe that Earth does self-heal...but humans have negatively affected the self-healing to a dangerous degree. I've come across some videos by people who claim that the tech for free energy exists now. Here are a couple; some of it is a little far out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxNEWGl2rUI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGRsQZx6zWA
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Mar-31-2009)   Web site

I agree with a fair amount of what you say, AG, but I don't take it to the ultimate extremes in condemning ALL aspects of what currently exists. That is the main difference.

I think, as you do, that we are in for big trouble, but as some have indicated, that means we need to work on personal spiritual growth, and trying to create whatever the heck we can encourage to provide some roots for a better world down the road.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Mar-31-2009)   

I can't help it: I'm a doom-monger. I look to you for optimism. My optimism involves hoping for a major catastrophe (whether or not I survive it) so that we reduce human impact and allow the planet to heal. I don't see humans evolving away from the herd mentality until the herd forces fail.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Mar-31-2009)   Web site

Until something big hits the fan dramatically, there will be insufficient change. By then it may well be too late, and it may be too late already, as this article states. However, we may hope to re-invent society and re-stabilize in the future. I pick 100 years as the best guess. It may only be a few million people in Patagonia and Antarctica. This is based on one well-supported model which foresees a nearly 20 degree Farhenheit temperature rise world-wide through released methanes and CO2 currently under the oceans and in tundras, as happened 250 million years ago in the great Permian extinction.

We don't know. Hopefully there will not be an intervening nuclear confrontation and war.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Mar-31-2009)   

I have reduced this analytically to one term: Net Future Usefulness (a.k.a. Net Creativity).
All species (including Gaia) survive based on whether they create some future usefulness which adds to the resources available. In other words, no species survives if it doesn't 'leave' or 'save' something for rainy days. This principle applies to atomic particles in the aether and it applies to the nuclear reactions in stars. It applies to ants and aardvarks and atomic weapons.
The planet is being consumed by humans who do not leave anything useful. When viewed objectively from space, humans appear as a mold in a Petri dish: starting in Africa some 400,000 years ago or so. They first simply transformed the landscape when they learned to use fire to increase grasslands, but now, we see the living green converted to inedible pavement and other species killed off. In itself, this transformation isn't necessarily extinction material, except that the Net result is fewer available resources instead of more. Unlike large animals which consume a field and leave behind fertilizer, we consume a field and leave behind poisons.
The Earth's immune system cannot repair the damage because it is still under attack. You don't expect a victim's knife wounds to heal while the attacker is still stabbing them. Humans have made no SIGNIFICANT effort to stop attacking the earth even as we approach the last minute of the eleventh hour of doubling our populations and consumption. Every 'solution' so far still involves keeping people consuming in one form or another at basically the same rate that they have been. "10% of our energy from renewable sources by 2010"? Come ON. That's a joke, right? We have been doubling our energy use every decade for a century. Unless our first move is to cut our energy use by at least 50%, then we haven't even begun to think about reality.
All arguments against this which say "It's politically impossible" are just denials of our behaviors and cowardly. If something is politically impossible, then start getting rid of politicians or Nature will get rid of all of us.

  
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About author/contributor Member: PT (David Alexander) PT (David Alexander)
   Web site: http://www.insightandenergy.com

Member: PT (David Alexander) My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.

Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.

I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.
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