The Consequences of Gaia
			         - or -
			The Carbonist Manifesto

	    Copyright (C) 1992 Jeff Berkowitz (
			Revision 1 of 30 Nov 92

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    This essay describes some philosophical, ethical, and cosmological
    implications of the Gaia hypothesis.  Although loosely grounded in
    recent research in ecology and paleoclimatology, this is clearly an
    essay and not a scientific paper.  It is also distinctly tongue in
    cheek, but the author has spent some serious moments wondering
    whether the belief system outlined below is any more unreasonable
    than certain "mainstream" viewpoints.

		*		*		*		*

    Over the last few years, we've become familiar with the notion that
    the biosphere is a dynamic, self-regulating system.  In fact, an even
    stronger assertion can be made: the biosphere, in its present oxygen-
    rich form, is "a kind of superorganism that in its entirety maintains
    the conditions that best suit life on earth." [1]  This formulation,
    known as the Gaia Hypothesis, was originally advanced by naturalists
    James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis (novelist William Golding suggested
    the name.)

    A key point in the Gaia hypothesis concerns the stability of the
    carbon cycle: that the level of atmospheric CO2 has been maintained
    within relatively narrow limits for hundreds of millions of years.
    This point is critical because the temperature of the biosphere
    is largely controlled by the quantities of greenhouse gases
    (primarily CO2) in the atmosphere.  Various geophysical and
    biological processes cooperate to lower the amount of free CO2
    when the biosphere warms, and release CO2 when it cools.  Thus
    the assertion that CO2 has remained relatively constant is also
    an assertion that the temperature has remained within relatively
    narrow limits: at no time in the last billion years has the Earth
    been a pressure cooker like Venus, or a snowball like Mars.

    This essay contends that over geological time periods (in particular,
    over the last 500 million years) the amount of available carbon in the
    biospheric carbon cycle has slowly decreased.  This decrease has been
    driven by long term processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and
    deposit it in rocks.  Plants, for example, capture free carbon in the
    molecules making up their tissues.  As the plants die, their carbon
    sometimes leaves the dynamic biological domain of the "carbon cycle"
    and enters the geophysical domain as "hydrocarbon deposits" (coal,
    oil, and seafloor sediments.)

    Various pieces of indirect evidence exist for this slow decline in the
    CO2 content of the atmosphere.  Numerous plant species, for example,
    thrive when subjected to an atmosphere lower in oxygen and higher in
    CO2 than the current atmosphere of Earth.  It is natural to suppose
    that this beneficial effect is a holdover from the bygone era in which
    the photosynthetic "apparatus" of these plants evolved; their initial
    evolutionary "best fit" has slowly become a "misfit" due to decreasing
    levels of atmospheric CO2 across intervening megalenia.  Some direct
    evidence of CO2 decrease also exists in the form of ice cores [1, p 42]
    although it covers a much shorter time scale.

    It is true that several arguments for the "essential stability" of the
    atmospheric CO2 level exist, in addition to well-understood mechanisms
    that "reverse the process" by removing carbon from the geophysical
    domain and returning it to the biosphere (that is, the domains are not
    truly separate.)  It has been widely observed in the literature that
    CO2 levels could never have _fallen_ to less than one-third of their
    current value, nor could O2 levels have _risen_ significantly from
    their current values, without deadly consequences for life [2].

    The author finds these arguments too weak to deflect the main thrust
    of this essay.  None of the data presented in Garrels et al [2] appear
    to rule out the possibility of somewhat higher atmospheric CO2 in ages
    past.  In fact, their discussion of the carbon cycle gives short shrift
    to "reservior five" - organic carbon locked up in sediment.  It is the
    relationship between humankind and this crucial reservior five that we
    will now continue to explore.

    As we've shown, conventional reasoning links the general stability of
    the carbon cycle to the general stability of biospheric temperature.
    This same reasoning also serves to link the slow decrease in CO2 to an
    equally slow (yet systematic) cooling of the biosphere.  The Gaian
    temperature "equilibrium" is not, in fact, stable.  Across geological
    eons, the Gaian feedback system achieves not stability, but rather a
    slow cooling.  Various evidence for this cooling trend exists [5].

    Of course, the Gaian system is quite robust - as evidenced by its
    repeated recovery from the effects of barrages of big rocks from
    outer space.  As Gaia ages, however, it is faced with the threat
    of a calamity worse than the impact of a dinosaur killer.  This is
    the threat of "cold equilibrium", more colorfully called "the White
    Earth scenario."

    The White Earth scenario is part of the dirty laundry of the climate
    modelling community.  As noted in Gleick's "Chaos: Making a New
    Science" [6], some seemingly reasonable (although simple) climate
    models suffer from an odd characteristic of falling into a state in
    which much of Gaia's free water is locked up in snow and ice; the
    surface albedo of the planet is high; and no obvious mechanism for
    increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas content or otherwise warming
    the planet presents itself.  Since this state does not seem to
    correspond to anything in the historical record of the Earth, it
    is regarded as anomalous and incorrect.

    I suggest that we take take a truly novel approach to these seemingly
    valid models that drop into the White Earth state: let's presume that
    they are valid, and that they are telling us something important.  We
    are at risk of "cold equilibrium" in the near geological term.
    The ability of the paleoclimatological community to accumulate the
    data leading to this conclusion and then avoid the conclusion itself
    is quite astonishing.  One paleoclimatologist [4] has the audacity to
    draw a graph of Gaian temperature that trends smoothly downward for
    many millions of years, but is suddenly consumed by a series of sharp
    vertical excursions ("wiggles") over the past few hundred thousand.
    It's similar to the graph of a coin which rolls slowly around in a
    large circle, then rattles rapidly around in an oscillating spiral
    for a few moments before coming to rest in an equilibrium state,
    stable and dead - Gaia converges on the White Earth.

    Now let's take a step back from this impending frozen death for a
    moment.  The key to the Gaian system is that it is *self-adjusting*.
    As observers who have only recently had our eyes opened to this
    wonderful concept, the Gaian model, we cannot hope to appreciate
    the myriad ways this all-encompassing system might find to regulate
    itself - to adapt to conditions and to maintain the equilibrium
    necessary for life.  We must not underestimate the ability of the
    Gaian organism to evolve temporary organelles designed to deal
    with crisis.

    The last 100,000 years have seen some of the coldest times in the
    500 million that have elapsed since the Ordovician period.  These
    100,000 years form less than 1/1000th of the intervening 500 million

    Oddly, they're the same 100,000 years that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has
    existed on Earth.

    Clearly, the biosphere has reached a point of crisis.  The relatively
    stable processes of self-regulation that have worked for the past
    hundreds of millions of years have reached the limit of their ability
    to correct.

    In response to the impending crisis, Gaia evolved a solution.  At the
    edges of the ice sheets that flowed down over the northern hemisphere
    during the last ice age, Gaia brought it to fruition: a short term
    corrective process designed to restore the natural balance of free
    carbon dioxide in the biosphere.


    Yes, Man.  Not the destroyer, the pillager, the environmental
    rapist of the popular lore; an utterly different view of Man the
    restorer, the savior, the solution to an environmental crisis more
    dangerous to the biosphere than even the giant stone that ended the
    age of dinosaurs.  Man, whose only purpose in the Gaian system is
    to extract carbon from the rocks and put it back in the atmosphere
    where it belongs.

    It is not far-fetched to suggest that the evolution of mankind is
    an adaptive reaction.  Organisms under stress are known to exhibit
    all manner of extraordinary behaviors.  It is likely that
    Levenson's "one last coincidence" [1, p 56] is not a coincidence
    at all -

	From 1500 to 1850, throughout the Little Ice Age, the
	nations of Europe expanded in population, power, techno-
	logical competence, military strength, economic endeavors, 
	in world rule - in virtually every measure of the vigor
	of a civilization.

    No, it is not a coincidence at all.  It is, quite literally, our
    destiny; that is why we are so well equipped to succeed and expand
    our CO2-returning practices during periods of intense cold.

    The climatological community has come close to the point:

	Within a few centuries, we [human beings] are returning
	to the atmosphere and oceans the concentrated organic
	carbon stored in the sedimentary rocks over hundreds of
	millions of years [3].

    But as scientists, the community lacked the zeal to make that
    final, fundamental leap from observation to motive - the observation
    that this is not merely an unanticipated side effect of intelligence,
    but the very reason for its existence.

		    Post-Gaian Environmental Ethics

    Given this recognition of mankind's role in the Gaian system, it
    is possible to construct a consistent system of environmental ethics
    that might be called "Carbonism."

    - Carbonists hold viewpoints that differ significantly from widely
      accepted environmental viewpoints, but Carbonists are not wanton
      destroyers of the environment.  Carbonists do not favor poisoning
      the environment with long-lived toxins such as heavy metals or
      radioactive nucleotides, the accumulation of solid waste, or any
      other practice that does not contribute the the increase of CO2
      in the biosphere.

      Carbonists do hold, however, that other concerns are outweighed
      by the prospect of even a small increase in the necessary CO2 in
      Gaia's thinning veil.

    - Anything that has the direct effect of taking carbon from the
      geophysical reservior and returning it to the atmosphere is good.

    - Burning coal and oil for heating or to produce electric power
      are the greatest goods.  Temporary particulate pollution of the
      atmosphere associated with these practices are of no consequence.

    - Automobiles are very good.  Automobiles contribute other
      greenhouse gases, in addition to CO2, all at a minimal cost
      in annoying particulate pollution.

    - Burning wood is good.  Logging is good.  Slash-and-burn
      agriculture is good, particularly when it is done to raise
      ruminants (cud-chewing animals) which themselves contribute
      nontrivial quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

    - Eating red meat is good.  Consumption of red meat has an amazing
      ability to act as an economic incentive for slash-and-burn
      agriculture and the cultivation of ruminants in the tropical
      regions of the world.

    - Hydroelectric and Nuclear power are bad.  They replace beneficial
      coal and oil burning.  Dams are also harmful to fish, and harming
      fish has no evident CO2 benefit - Again, Carbonists are not wanton
      destroyers of the environment.

      Aside from its unfortunate tendency to substitute for coal and oil
      burning, nuclear power is fairly neutral.  This reflects my personal
      viewpoint that the nuclear economy is unlikely to result in
      significantly poisoning the environment over time.  Being anti-
      nuclear is the appropriate Carbonist viewpoint no matter what your
      feelings about the safety of nuclear power.  Nuclear safety is a
      non-issue for Carbonists.

    - Natural gas is not good, although it is not as bad as hydroelectric
      power (it does add small amounts of certain greenhouse gases to the
      atmosphere.)  In most cases, however, natural gas substitutes for
      the significantly more beneficial practices of burning coal or oil,
      and so should be avoided.

    - Air pollution is good, particularly when it kills large areas
      of forest (Central Europe, California, etc.)  These dead trees
      are far more likely to end up rotting and burning (and hence
      contributing to atmospheric CO2) than to end up in the ground.

		    The Longer Term and the Meaning of Life

    A short term consequence of the restoration of a proper CO2 balance
    to the atmosphere will be a radical drop in the number of species
    within the Gaian system.  This holocaust will be caused by the
    inability of most species to adapt to the rapid shift in climate,
    non-CO2 pollution occurring as a side effect of CO2 boosting, and
    related effects.

    The loss of speciation might well approach the worst of the dinosaur
    killer episodes in scope - perhaps 75% or more of Gaia's individual
    species will disappear in a period of only a few centuries.

    In the longer term, what of it?  It's happened before, and it will
    happen again.  The Gaian system has a proven ability to recover
    from loss of speciation.  The destruction of 75% of Gaia's species
    is a routine event of no consequence; the impending White Earth
    Catastrophy offers the prospect of the death of Gaia itself - a
    multibillion-year-old organism of unimaginable richness and variety.

    Finally, it is worth noting that Carbonism speaks directly to the
    fundamental questions of human existence in a way that is both simple
    and profound.  Carbonism holds that neither individual human life
    nor any achievement of humanity, other than the liberation of free
    carbon, has any significance whatsoever.  Only the collective
    behavior of the human species is significant to Gaia, and in a
    few centuries (when the carbon balance has been restored) Gaia's
    need for humanity will be at an end.

    Mark Sweiger ( suggested the name "Carbonism."

    Reviewers of the document and victims of my lunchtime rants have
    included my wife Sylvia and numerous long-suffering engineers
    at Sequent.

    [1] Levenson, T.  "Ice Time: Climate, Science, and Life on Earth."
	Harper and Row, 1989, p 10 and others.

    [2] Garrels, Lerman, Mackenzie, "Controls of Atmospheric O2 and CO2
    	Past, Present, and Future."  In "Climates Past and Present",
	Skinner, B Ed.  William Kaufman Inc, 1981.

    [3] Baes, Goeller, Olson, Rotty, "Carbon Dioxide and Climate: The
	Uncontrolled Experiment."  In "Climates Past and Present",
	Skinner, B ed.  William Kaufman Inc, 1981.

    [4] Butzer, K.  "Environment and Archeology.  An Ecological Approach
	to Prehistory", Second Edition.  Aldine Athertone 1971, p 18.
    [5] Hecht, A.  "Paleoclimate Analysis and Modelling"  John Wiley &
	Sons, 1985, p 402.

    [6] Gleick, "Chaos: Making a New Science", p 170.  I've also
	exchanged some email with members of the community, one of
	whom indicated that explaining why this has never really
	happened on earth had "the status of a cottage industry"
	for a time.

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