Gaia is sick: It is not only Climate Change

Lauantai 22.12.2018 klo 13:35 - Mikko Nikinmaa


Gaia hypothesis was generated in 1970's by chemist James Lovelock (and co-developed by microbiologist Lynn Margulis). It states that organisms interact with their inorganic environment so that the Earth is a complex self-regulating system, where chemical, physical and biological components all affect the state of Gaia (=Earth). In the early 1990's there was a computer game simulating the development of Gaia.

Gaia concept is very fitting to climate change, bIMG_20170728_0063.jpgecause any change is the result of changes in atmospheric chemistry, energy production, the use of fossil fuels, radiation, respiration of organisms, environmental pollution, photosynthesis etc. However, although climate change is at the moment the most serious complex disease of Gaia, there are many other, which all generate problems, and require active combatting. They include land use, waste production, environmental pollution and biodiversity loss. If one tries to pinpoint a single factor causing the diseases of Gaia, the increase of human population is that. If there were less than two billion of us like there were a hundred years ago, none of the problems - climate change, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss etc. would have occurred provided that today's technologies were used.

With regard to land use, large population needs space for housing and food production. This results in cutting forests, and both decreases carbon dioxide utilization worsening climate change and causes biodiversity loss. It is notable that organic farming is actually a bigger problem than modern agriculture, since the same amount of food production requires larger area whereby carbon dioxide sink is reduced as more forest needs to be cut. (It is clear that plants used for food production also take up some carbon dioxide, but the amount is smaller than for trees). Land use also includes mines and such like. Much of metal mining could be stopped, if all metals were recirculated.

Increased food production is necessarily causing biodiversity loss. It is, for example, thought that overfishing will increasingly result in a decrease in a number of marine species. Largely fisheries-induced biodiversity loss could be decreased by aquaculture. Notably, aquaculture decreases biodiversity loss only if their feed is not fishflour, i.e. fish are not caught to get fodder. One way of increasing land area for food production is to replace cotton fibre with wood fibre and another is to decrease meat use (and thereby production).

The waste collection and recycling of materials can be improved and environmental pollution decreased by effective wastewater treatment plants. However, regardless of what is done, the problems become more difficult to solve with increasing human population. So, Gaia is sick, and the best remedy would be to be able to decrease human population, or since this is not likely to be achieved, at least stop population growth. To be able to do this an important component would be improving women's status and schooling. Also, a major shift in ideology is required - growth ideology must be scrapped.

Avainsanat: land use, population increase, growth, energy production


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