The idea of Gaia as a living being and the beings on her surface as part and parcel of her totality raises the question of what role each species serves in maintaining the homeostasis of the whole. I.e., how is it that each of the parts helps keep the whole alive?
That is how single beings work, after all. It really isn’t correct to think of ourselves as being independent individuals. Keeping us alive is a process far beyond the capability of those cells our embryo began producing in our mother’s womb. We’ve known for many years, for example, that the digestion of the food we eat would simply be impossible were it not for the bacteria that cooperate symbiotically with our intestinal track, eyes, hands, etc. to make the whole process happen.
One of the things that makes life, and especially individual living beings, so very difficult to define is this, one of life’s most perplexing conundrums: no living, complex, being is an island. Each is a vastly complicated system, interdependent upon thousands of other beings for its continued existence as a stable entity.
That stability is what one means by homeostasis, which is one of the major tests for almost everyone’s attempt to define life.
One cannot, of course, explain what role any one critter plays in maintaining the homeostasis of the whole, for such is so deeply interactive with the activities of other critters that claiming sole credit for the contributions one critter makes would be disingenuous. For example, the bacteria, mentioned above are vital, but by itself the bacteria would be incapable of making a significant contribution.
To paraphrase a character from “Shakespeare In Love,” it’s a mystery.
Nonetheless, we can try to speculate just what we humans contribute to the ongoing status of Gaia as a living being. Obviously, the basic role we play as herbivores, carbon dioxide exhalers, and the nature of our other habits, preferences, and excretions, have long played a role in our contribution to Gaia’ s homeostasis, be it vague as to just what that role may have been, but is there something we can claim as exclusively, or almost so, our own?
I think there is.
A friend of mine, Gus Frederick, first suggested it to me thusly: “Humans are Gaia’s gonads.” I’ve thought a lot about that lately, and I think it clearly linked to that very thing which makes us such a potent threat to gaia’s life on this planet itself.
Humans are the only species that have made significant advances in the invention and utilization of technology. Almost any situation involving “getting off the planet” is either frustratingly random with very small probability for actually coming about, or heavily dependent upon use of highly developed technology.
I’ve argued extensively elsewhere re the lack of correlation between the necessity of using technology and the perseverance of that technology in perpetuity following eventual terraforming of an alien planet.
Under those circumstances, it looks to me like Gus is right. Humanity is Gaia’s gonads. Now the question remains to be seen whether the cancer we’ve become will beat us to Gaia’s death before the potential we possess, as an organ, can fulfill its purpose.