By raising the specter of humanity as cancer, I invite attack based on the assumption I hate people. That’s the opposite of my feeling. All my friends are people, you know, and I have my share. I’m very sociable and make friends easily. Interestingly, I’ve lost some, however, since “coming out” with my recognition of the lethal threat our growth, as a species, represents to Gaia.
When people find your main message unacceptable, they come to regard it as annoying noise. But when you regard Gaia as God, as I do, then you have to subjugate your needs to Her’s. As a consequence, I talk about our threat to Gaia/God all the time–or so it seems, at least. I certainly think about it almost all the time.
That drives people away. It’s much easier to immerse yourself in euphoric oblivion than to listen to an irritating cacophony. So I lose friends, sometimes. Probably for much less self-reaffirming reasons, too, but I choose not to think about that. Truth be told, I think my message was one of the major factors in my losing my last wife. We shared 22 marvelous years, but the last four of those, after I decided I had to face this issue full-on, were very hard for her.
But that’s very far afield, and I don’t really need to take you there. Suffice it to say, as did Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Even better, I think, is my father’s advice, “Don’t wallow in it, George!”
Anyway, I don’t hate people at all. I do hate it when there are too many of them in any one place, though.
There is little about cities that appeal to me. On the other hand, I’ve always loved nature. A sunrise over a meadow is unrivaled. The most beautiful of cityscapes isn’t even in the running.
But, no, I’d have to say I love people too. I could no more live alone in the wild than breath underwater. Nor would I want to. People need one another. But I’ve had the great privilege of living almost all of my life in small town America. The clear blue sky, uncrowded beaches of mountain lakes, the slow pace, and the knowledge that someone who knows me will stop in a few minutes with a helping hand if I have car trouble, are typical perks I’d never trade for all the money in the world.
I want everyone, everywhere, to have pleasures like my own. I wish them happiness and wholeness. I want humanity to thrive. But I want it to thrive forever. And we can’t continue to do that if we continue to grow. Our continued growth can only end in the death of life on Earth. That’s the nature of cancer. Equally importantly, it’s the nature of being a living entity.
I realized in 1986 that we can no longer prevent the death of Gaia. Well, “realized” may not be the right word. Perhaps it’s better to say “it was revealed to me” [see my first book, InThe Service of Gaia: The Call, for the full story]. And I’m not talking about billions of years from now, when the sun swells to envelop the planet. The sun swelling has nothing to do with it. It will happen when the tumor grows so large that it shuts down the balance of biodiversity that keeps Gaia alive. And, just looking at the tumor’s growth rate, that’s going to be soon. Very soon, in geologic terms. Almost too soon in our own time scale.
So soon I fear there may barely be time to do what we must do.
So, what is that? What can we do?
Well, obviously we can attempt to stop it. In fact, we better do exactly that, for if we don’t at least slow it down, we’re toast. Indeed, the literature is full of voices advocating various strategies for “saving the planet.”
But, so long as the focus remains firmly on “saving mankind,” we’re actually rooting for the cancer, not the host. That won’t work. Without efforts to simultaneously squelch our own growth, attempts to mitigate our impacts are really merely attempts to make more growth acceptable. This is what virtually all environmental efforts have been thus far. Until we consider the infinitely more important task of saving Gaia’s life as our primary concern, they will remain so, essentially working toward our own eventual end.
But, as I’ve said, I see no way we will ever totally stop humanity’s growth now. We are continually overwhelmed by the inexorable growth our already too large population creates. I suppose I could be wrong–hope I am–but the more I look at it the more certain I become.
So, then, are there any options? If humanity is malignant, and too far metastasized to be stopped, then life on Earth is doomed. That’s a concept so horrible we cannot look at it. So we continue to keep our heads firmly stuck in the sand. But pulling our heads out of the sand, no matter how frightening or uncomfortable, is our only hope of being able to defeat this enemy we all know to be ourselves.
Hope lies in comprehending some things even beyond those we began this treatise with: Gaia is a living entity, and She is what we’ve always meant to describe when we were speaking of “God.” When we look at nature we are peering directly at God–no intermediator–no “work of.” Nature, wild and untended by the hand of man, is God. And God is mortal. Very, very, mortal.
Further, to develop a viable strategy, we have to take the next conceptual step: we have to see that what makes Earth different from Mars, or Venus, or Saturn, or all the rest, is life. Incomprehensibly diverse and abundant life. Gaia is life as manifested here on Earth. And, if “God” is all about describing Gaia, then Life, itself, is God.
It happens that life on Earth is the only life we know of. Most scientific types believe life exists elsewhere in the universe, and almost anyone with the vaguest idea of the vastness of the stars would never doubt it. But whether it does or doesn’t is irrelevant to what we must do in the face of our dilemma.
We have to do everything within our power to survive. That is one of the basic defining characteristics of “life.” Yet, to accomplish that we must take an additional conceptual leap: we humans are a part of Gaia/God. What has made our growth cancerous has been our misunderstanding of the very definition we have of “we.”
If we think “we” refers to humanity alone we’re doing “cancer-think.” “We” isn’t humanity. “We” is all of Gaia. Every living thing on this planet is as much a part of “we” as are humans. “We” are all the Gaians.
Yet we’ve a long tradition and deeply ingrained conventions in our language of using “we” quite differently. To attempt to overcome that training I’ll henceforth use “we” with a lower case “w” when I mean it in the usual sense, and write “We” with the upper case “W,” whenever I mean to include all Gaians. Similarly with “Our,” etc.
What we need to guide us in our actions is to realize that there is a possibility to preserve Gaia’s life. But that possibility isn’t in continuing to bet the farm on a strategy we’ve watched fail for decades. Every since the environmental movement began, we’ve only seen Gaia’s condition grow worse. We (upper case) are deathly ill. And we (lower case) are the tumor.
Okay… Maybe I’m rushing this argument too fast. Let’s pause a minute and examine some of these claims I’m making so readily as if they were self-evident. I’ve alluded to pictures from space as evidence for granting Earth/Gaia the status of a single, living being. I’ve referenced the night images as indications that humanity has assumed the role of a cancer overtaking her body. There is plenty of justification from innumerable other arenas supportive of these two ideas. Even the identification of Gaia with God is not unprecedented, for numerous indigenous cultures did, essentially, exactly that.
But the idea that the growth of our species might be fatal to the individual “Gaia,” is, surely, extraordinary–possibly even unique. That deserves much more than just a passing comment.
First off, what characteristics are present on Earth that seem so obvious to me as indicators of Her being alive, say, as opposed to the other planets? Well, for example, there’s water. The abundance of it is certainly unusual within the solar system, and especially so in liquid form.
While it seems to be essential for life, life may also be a big source of the energy required to produce so much of it. I think that’s one of those things we don’t really have much of a handle on yet, but it’s worth speculating on a bit. I hope someone else will follow up on that, but I shan’t. And, of course, the circulation of water throughout the oceans is a very big factor in what keeps this web of life interacting. It serves the same role as blood in our own bodies.
And, more than anything, it’s the interaction within the web that makes the conclusion so compelling that all life on this planet is functioning precisely as an individual. It is, for instance, the constant circulation through our own system that keeps the whole functioning. The red blood cells provide oxygen for all our cells to carry on their exact processes. The white blood cells marshal a defense to external forces that would destroy us. Something–I’m not sure what–carries waste produced by the cells to other parts of the body where they are processed and rendered innocuous, usually by being expelled from the body.
But it’s the restraint of our blood staying always within the confines of the body that most clearly leads us to think of ourselves as individuals. Well, one of the things.
But this is one of the ways we find it hard to imagine all of Earth as being a single entity. When we speak of the oceans and talk about them being constrained to the surface of the planet, you almost have to ask, “But where else would it go?” “There’s gravity, you know. Water always runs downhill, you know that, don’t you, George?”
Yes, of course I know all about the water cycle (which, b.t.w., includes water rising, at least into the atmosphere). Or at least I probably know just about what you know about it. But I also know there’s so much water on this planet we’ve never felt compelled to examine what we know about the water cycle with too much concern. Is water actually staying on the planet? How do we know? What might cause it to go away? Or, for example, where might it go if conditions ever changed to make it go away?
“What? Make it go away? This guy is as crazy as the mad hatter.”
Well maybe not. When we’re talking on scales beyond our previous experience, I think we should use our imagination a bit more than we’re used to. For example, we’ve only confirmed in the last few years that Mars once had abundant water, much, if not most, of it in liquid form. It appears to have been that way for time frames of at least decades and possibly millennia.
Now it’s gone. Where? Mars has gravity, too, so maybe it’s underground now. But, until we find it, we’re only speculating. In any case, though, the fact that Mars lost its water from the surface, where its circulation would have been as useful to life there as the gulf stream is here, should get us thinking about things we’ve always assumed. How do we know we might not lose our water? Mars lost its water. But asking that here, on this planet, throws the questioner into that vaguely sinister area of the madhouse.
But is it a ridiculous question?
No, not at all. It’s a question that applies only a little imagination to a very important observation about a system whose size is comparable to our own. And our own has always been so large we never thought about it before we serendipitously got a photo of the whole earth and saw Her as an individual.
There’s more than a little to think about here.
Remaining: How do you decide if a planet is dead? Pann passes 7/11/11. Building the life raft–101. What my real problem is (self-diagnosed, of course).