Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Gaia Theory: A CBC Interview with James Lovelock

Just when you think you've got your head around some of the pressing environmental issues and their impact on humanity, you read or hear something that turns it all upside down. At least that's been my experience of late. Just last week I happened to have CBC radio on during The Current and Anna Maria Tremonti was doing an interview with James Lovelock. The show started out with the promo CBC's been doing for "a million acts of green" and went on to say that all of the energy and hype that's going into encouraging humanity - at least those of us who are accustomed to living recklessly and carelessly in the developed world - to live more responsibly and with respect for environmental stewardship, may not make that much difference. What? That got my attention.

James Lovelock, it turns out, is the originator of what's called the Gaia Theory. The basic idea behind the Gaia Theory is that the earth is a self-regulating organism which has it's own survival agenda. If James Lovelock is right, we should perhaps be less concerned about saving the earth from US and more concerned about saving US from the earth! According to him, the earth WILL look after itself but it may not look after us. In fact, he believes that the population will dwindle from the current nearly 7 billion, to only 1 billion. You can read more about Gaia Theory at http://www.gaiatheory.org/synopsis.htm . Oh, and it's not that we shouldn't reduce green house gas emissions and look for greener ways of living, but he argues that it may be too late to reverse the earth's adaptation to our carelessness. And, he suggests that we'd do well to focus instead on our own adaptation to the effects of climate change on our habitat.

Well! That's interesting, and frankly a bit frightening - if he's right. As I listened I was reminded of a situation in Vancouver a few years ago. They'd had heavier than usual rain in Vancouver [in my experience, it's ALWAYS raining in Vancouver!] and the city was under a "boil water order". Now note that it wasn't that they didn't have access to water - residents were just warned that they needed to boil the water before ingesting it. An inconvenience to be sure, especially for those who are used to unlimited quantities of clean, potable water at the turn of a tap - on demand, so to speak. You can imagine that demand for bottled water went through the roof. And here's the thing. There were reports of people - normally NICE people, good citizens - coming to blows at the Costco over bottled water! A colleague I was visiting at the time - who, by the way had lived for a number of years in Africa - remarked wryly that these same people very likely would say of Africans, "I don't know why they keep killing one another!"

My point in all this is to say that many of us who have had the incredible privilege to live in Canada all of our lives, and especially those of us who are 55 years old or so or younger, really don't know what it's like to live with scarcity. And consequently, we may not know how we would (or WILL) deal with scarcity when it arrives on our doorstep. I don't understand all the science behind Gaia Theory or other perspectives on climate change, but I think a lot about our responsibilities to our neighbors - whether they live around the block or across the globe. I note the news reports of violence around the world - food riots and riots over access to water and political instability and terrorism and attacks on humanitarian organizations trying to deliver aid - and I wonder what it will all come to. Mostly I wonder how I will respond if and when my comfortable life is disturbed by scarcity. And I think that if I want to respond well and out of a generous spirit, I'd better start cultivating a generous disposition now. If you'd like to listen to the interview with James Lovelock, just click on the title of this post and scroll down to Part 2.

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