Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


The Death of Gaia

I'm filing this under religion partly to tweak those who think the Gaia hypothesis (It doesn't meet the criteria to be a theory) is the neatest thing to hit ecological science since Darwin sailed on the Beagle, but mostly because as a theory, it's DOA. It's no more scientific than Intelligent Design, and for roughly the same reasons. Of course, that doesn't stop the Granola Gang from running around spouting nonsense about the "planetary organism" any more than it stops creationists from babbling about "irreducible complexity." But it does make it much easier to make fun of their delusions.

Let's take a closer look at the Gaia Hypothesis for just a minute. There are two main components to the theory. The first is that all the organic and inorganic systems of the planet work together to achieve a certain goal. The second is that the goal is homeostasis. For those of you who slept through biology, homeostasis is a fancy way of saying that nothing changes. If you apply a pressure to a homeostatic system, it will react in a way to return to the status quo. If you try to make it hotter, it will react in a way to cause things to cool off. If you try to push it to the right, it will rebound to the left.

Think of it like a balky teenager. No matter how hard you nudge, they go about their own business, ignoring you. That's the essence of homeostasis.

Fortunately for us, Gaia isn't so good at maintaining homeostasis. In fact, she downright sucks at it. The history of the Earth is one of frequent and usually abrupt changes in topography, climate, heck, everything. Check out this timeline of the various geological eras. Note that for over half of its life, this planet had no free oxygen to speak of. That's 2.5 billion years of nothing to breathe. Fortunately there were no critters around during that time that needed to breathe.

In fact, when free oxygen began appearing in the atmosphere, it was utterly devastating to the existing ecology. Oxygen killed off most of the life that existed on the planet over the course of a few million years. But that wasn't the only mass extinction. The Permian period saw 90% of all life on the earth wiped out. What happened? All I can tell you is that it wasn't caused by SUV's. The dinosaurs also died out in a mass extinction, this one possibly caused by a collision with a big asteroid causing global cooling.

Speaking of which, check out the chart on this page showing the temperature variation over the earth's history.

Not a whole lot of homeostasis there. In fact, that chart looks like it would make for an awesome roller coaster.

The Gaia hypothesis arises from two main factors, ignorance and hubris. We've already demonstrated the former; let's take a look at the latter. Homo sapiens has existed for roughly 100,000 years, give or take. The earth has existed for roughly 4.5 billion years.

That's 4,500,000,000 years vs 100,000. That means that we've been around for about 0.002% of the time that the earth has existed and we have the audacity to think that because we evolved in this climate, that this is the climate that Gaia "prefers."

That's the hubris, folks.

If you look at it without anthropocentrism, the earth has spent a lot more time in climates decidedly unfriendly to our evolution. Wouldn't those be the "preferred" climates for homeostasis?

Hey, maybe they are! Maybe that's why Gaia spun out the human race. It's our job to spew out greenhouse gases into the environment and bring about massive deforestation to get rid of all that nasty oxygen in the atmosphere, so things can get back to normal around here.

So when you see me driving around town in my pick-up with the windows down and the AC on, don't get angry with me. Just realize that I'm doing my part to help Gaia get back into shape and look the way she did when she was young and in her prime.
Posted by Rich
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