The idea of Gaia – a useful fix against the dangerous overestimation of the human ego. (imago / Panthermedia / Greyjoy)
When we think of “us”, we think of our family, our society, perhaps all of humanity – but shouldn’t we think more of us in the face of the climate crisis? For the “Gaia theory”, we are only a part of the earth as a whole.
what is the human? All philosophy leads to this question. Who are we, where do we come from, where are we going?
Philosophy has always tried to answer this question by referring to the uniqueness of the human being. The search for us then becomes a search for the difference specific to the non-us – to nature, to other forms of life. What separates us from the world comes to the fore. The common, shared, however becomes invisible. Man here, nature there; here the organism, there its environment; here life, there matter.
Life and the environment go hand in hand
The Gaia theory, developed by scientist and inventor James Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, opposes this atomistic perspective. The theory is based on a simple observation: “We live in a world that our oldest and most recent ancestors built and which is continually supported by living things today. This is what James Lovelock wrote in 1979 in his book “The Gaia Principle”.
The air we breathe, the fertile soil, the climate: what keeps us alive are the products of life itself. This is why there is nowhere on earth a clear border between life and simple matter, says Lovelock: “There is only one gradation Intensity which goes from the ‘material’ environment of the stones. and from the atmosphere to living cells. “
Series “Who are we? People and others”
Who are we anyway? How narrowly or broadly do we define this collective self-designation? And does it only include people or do other beings belong to it as well? In “Sein und Streit” this summer, as part of the 2021 think tank, we start with the “search for us” and we find it in animal metaphors, machine dreams, science-fiction worlds and the “principle Gaia “:
July 11: animal, machine or image of God? “The essence of man is that he has none” Interview with Thomas Macho.
July 11: what animal are we? When obedient sheep meet power-hungry pigs By Florian Werner.
July 18: Are we becoming a machine? From human watchmaking to the cyborg By Constantin Hühn.
July 25: The We in Science Fiction: Starfleet or Borg Collective? By Christian Berndt.
August 1: are we a planet? With Gaia against the climate crisis By Niklas Anbauer.
Life, according to the thesis, merges with the earth throughout the history of the earth. Life is part of the environment, the environment is part of life. Lovelock and Margulis give this link between life and the environment the name Gaia, after the Greek goddess of the earth. Gaia is not an esoteric being, but the constant interaction of biosystems and their environments. Gaia is the living earth. Just like a giant sequoia is alive, although it is mostly made up of dead material, Gaia is also “alive”.
Fix for human overestimation
The consequence of this insight is not emotional, but harsh. When all living things are interconnected by mutual dependencies, then each species that endangers its ecosystem digs its own grave. What is hostile to life will be extinguished in the medium term. Gaia’s “invisible hand” ensures that only this hand survives what advances life as a whole.
Philosopher Andreas Hetzel sees the idea of Gaia as a useful corrective against a dangerous self-esteem in human beings: “If we take such a holistic perspective, we can feel more strongly how dependent we are still, which we need. to nature, ourselves, whether we like it or not, are still part of nature. “
We’re on a mountain of ecological debt
Even if this may not seem the case at first glance: we moderns in particular owe Gaia deeply and are particularly dependent on her. “If we look at the great historical leaps in the development of mankind,” says Hetzel, “then we can see that these leaps have always been associated with the use of new sources of energy, and most of them were fossil fuels that impacted the ecosystem services of prehistoric prehistoric forests in the earth In other words, most of the modern industrialized world that we take for granted today, we owe it to a nature that we did not create ourselves and that we cannot simply compensate by technical means. “
Our way of life rests on a gigantic mountain of ecological debt. And this mountain is growing faster than ever: over the past 30 years, humanity has produced more CO2 than in the previous 100,000 years. Despite all the renewable energies, the demand for fossil fuels continues to grow, with hundreds of species being eradicated every day. We all live on credit. If human civilization was a business, we would have gone bankrupt long ago.
Gaia theory is a warning
Nature doesn’t need us – but we do it all the more. Therefore, if humanity is to have a future, it has to start thinking that we are bigger. Not just out of compassion for creation, but out of sheer will to survive.
This is what Gaia’s theory boils down to: “Gaia is […] neither the kind and indulgent mother, nor the tender and fragile virgin, helpless at the mercy of brutal humanity. On the contrary, he is strict and harsh. For those who keep the rules, it creates a world that is always warm and pleasant; but he ruthlessly destroys those who go too far. Your unconscious goal is a planet ready for life. If people oppose this goal, they will be eliminated with the same cruelty with which the electronic brain of an atomic ICBM controls its target. “In this sense, Gaia’s theory is first and foremost one thing: a warning.
For further :
James Lovelock: The Gaia Principle.
Oekom Verlag, Munich 2021
320 pages, 24 euros
Lynn Margulis: The Symbiotic Planet.
Westend Verlag, Frankfurt 2018
208 pages, 20 euros