(Clicking any of the underlined text in blue will take you to a reference on it.)
Time published a March 12, 2012, article titled “Nature Is Over” which argued that humans have changed and geoengineered the Earth so radically that the familiar Holocene epoch has ended and yielded to the Age of Man, the Anthropocene. Time opined that “The reality is that in the Anthropocene, there may simply be no room for nature, at least not nature as we’ve known and celebrated it – something separate from human beings – something pristine.” Environmentalist Bill McKibben pushed a similar idea in his 1989 book, “The End of Nature.”
To explain my vision of Gaia laughing at Time and McKibben, we need a definition of Gaia (a term coined in Ancient Greece), which is the theory, or perhaps poetic metaphor, that the potentially life-supporting portions of Earth act together as a self-regulating complex system. The land, air, sea and underground portions of Gaia link together and work to achieve physical and chemical environments that encourage life on Earth. James Lovelock, who I believe is the world’s foremost climate scientist, advanced the Gaia Hypothesis in 1972.
I say Gaia laughs because human beings are such a small part of life, and our domination and control does not extent to the microorganisms which comprise most of nature. I’ll use my abbreviated Wikipedia summary on “bacteria:”
“Bacteria are present in most habitats on Earth, growing in soil, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, water, and deep in the Earth’s crust, as well as in organic matter and the live bodies of plants and animals. There are typically 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and a million bacterial cells in a millilitre of fresh water; in all, there are approximately five nonillion bacteria on Earth, forming a biomass that exceeds that of all plants and animals.”
So microorganisms such as bacteria, while too small to see without a microscope, together weigh much more than all of humanity and all of our familiar plant and animal companions.
Microorganisms multiply and mutate quickly, and some of them will adjust to whatever human civilization does to the planet. So “Nature” is not going to end. There is the possibility that man will change natural systems enough so that Gaia no longer supports our civilization, but nature will endure in great numbers and great variety of living creatures. I personally think Gaia wants to keep people around, and she’s giving us survival advice all the time.
Image by Ad Meskens (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons