Saturday, March 24, 2007


We've been reading James Lovelock in the environmental ethics class. He first introduced "Gaia," the Earth Goddess metaphor of a living and self-regulating planet that so many of the "scientifically correct" hastily rejected as mystical and New Agey, decades ago. Now, in Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock has gone apocalyptic: humans have plundered the planet and must consequently receive Mother Earth's harsh version of Tough Love. He predicts an 80% "culling" of the population in the next century, followed by a period of adjustment when the human survivors -- like those Irish monks -- will once more have to reinvent civilization.

Lovelock may be right, but I don't like his tone. I much prefer the perspective of Michael Pollan, whose Botany of Desire is our next read. Pollan, too, affirms that we are a part of nature; but his version of the relation between humans and non-human nature also acknowledges its "co-evolutionary" character. Our interests and desires have not just injured Gaia, in important ways they have defined her. We don't have to think of ourselves as forever harboring a toxic threat to the arc of our planet’s evolutionary destiny; we are one of its adaptations, and the only one capable of articulating a planetary point of view that recognizes planetary health as inseparable from human self-interest.

Al Gore made clever use of the Gaia metaphor in his testimony before Congress this week, noting that when your child is sick you don't ignore her condition because a scif-fi author [Michael Crichton, of course] said it wasn't a problem; you treat it.

I like Gore's tone more than Lovelock's, too. As Senator Gore wrote, way back when:

"For civilization as a whole, the faith that is so essential to restore the balance now missing in our relationship to the earth is the faith that we do have a future. We can believe in that future and work to achieve it and preserve it, or we can whirl blindly on, behaving as if one day there will be no children to inherit our legacy. The choice is ours; the earth is in the balance."

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