Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. — Marie Curie
Is the world a benevolent place? These two Nobel laureates seem to hold slightly different views. As a victim of Nazi racism, Einstein’s doubts are understandable. And Marie Curie might have escaped her battle with terminal cancer if she’d feared the effects of radioactive isotopes in the test tubes that she carried about in her pockets and stashed in her desk drawers.
But what happens when a good friend—like Mother Earth—goes bad? That’s a simplification of the question James Lovelock poses in his latest book, The Vanishing face of Gaia, A Final Warning. In the 1960s Lovelock invented Gaia theory—the notion that Earth is a dynamic living system, an organic whole constantly adjusting the “harmonic thermostat” of our world. He was also first to identify CFCs and rallied international awareness to ban their use. When it became apparent that Earth’s temperature was rising at a feverish pace, once again he took up the challenge. He’s the original green genius. And green giant.
I have to confess to a certain gloomsterism about our collective future and The Vanishing face of Gaia, A Final Warning provides more than enough fertilizer for my over-ripe vision of what may befall humanity in the very near future. While Lovelock acknowledges the tireless work of the scientists who support the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (another Nobel Prize winner), he dismisses the consensus approach of the IPCC as politically motivated and a form of science heresy.
According to Lovelock, the IPCC is way too optimistic in its forecasts and it’s now too late for humans to reduce the global warming trend. Instead, governments should dedicate their efforts to prepare for the survival of those few millions lucky enough to inhabit the isolated places on Earth that may be habitable after the next 100 years: Tasmania, New Zealand, Britain and a few other spots in the northern hemisphere. (I like to think that the place where I live, Vancouver Island, is a viable candidate.)
When you consider that the global human population is currently around seven billion, I believe gloomsterism is the appropriate perspective on the changes which lie ahead. If Lovelock is correct (and I pray that he is terribly, laughably, wrong) the implications of the challenge we face are almost unimaginable. But a solution may be at hand.
Which takes me to my new work-in-progress, Exit from America, in which the central characters confront the changing world that Lovelock foresees and set about to find a new place for themselves where they can thrive. This requires a radical re-visioning of who we are as a species—a new step in our evolution.
But if there is another step in human evolution (something equivalent to the shift from homo erectus to homo sapiens) this change will be based on choice. Rather than merely adapting to a new environment (the modus operandi in Darwinian evolution) we will have to actualize our sense of human freedom and choose to become a new species so that our society can become a new kind of humanity.
A tall order? Indeed—and only those who survive will know if we succeed.