From the edge of the Earth, broadcast, podcast, by cable and satellite, this is Radio Ecoshock with Alex Smith.
Gaia - the great interconnected force of living things on a minor planet called Earth. British scientist James Lovelock wondered how life created it's own space, with the oxygen and nutrients we all need. It's a soothing idea. Some Greens took it further, suggesting Gaia is a super-consciousness that watches over balance and survival. A few worship Gaia.
Dr. Peter Ward, a deep time digger and climate investigator says Gaia, if there is one, can also be a mass murderer. The rock record shows at least 5 great mass extinctions before us. Ward offers us a different Greek myth: Medea - the wife of Jason the Argonaut, who swiped the Golden Fleece. In a fit of rage against her husband, Medea killed her own children. In a new book, the Medea Hypothesis, Peter Ward says Gaia is out. Bountiful Nature can become ecocidal, and only intelligent life can stop the death cycle we are now approaching.
Peter always stuffs us full of the latest science. He's not well-known to the public, but other climate scientists are listening closely as this brilliant mind sparks off a new paradigm for life and death, Earth style. But can we trust a creature with obvious pathological flaws to save the species? Should humans try to replace Nature?
Following our interview with Peter Ward, I answer a few questions about Radio Ecoshock, as a local college stations turns the tables, to interview the elusive Alex Smith. We talk the future of food, the economy, and radio itself. You'll also hear the new climate anthem, a re-worked "Beds Are Burning" from a host of celebrities.
I'm Alex Smith. This is Radio Ecoshock - and now to our feature interview.
Dr. Peter Ward still teaches at the University of Washington, while continuing his research trips all over the world. The broad public still hasn't absorbed his groundbreaking explanation of why land animals were killed off in such great numbers, in past extinction events.
The cause of one mass extinction, 65 million years ago, was found in an asteroid impact off the Yucatan peninsula, in the Gulf of Mexico. A school of science insisted such outer space events caused the other 4 major mass extinctions, including one that killed of at least 95 percent of all living species. But there isn't sufficient evidence for that. So what killed off the species? Peter Ward has found a key possibility: conditions arose that favored a type of bacteria producing deadly hydrogen sulfide. If the oceans switched to that toxic production, most land animals would be killed.
I've checked with a few top climate scientists as I've interviewed them, and most agree that Ward is probably correct. That one form of living things killed off the others, and the enabling trigger was climate change. I won't go into all that now - read Ward's book "Under A Green Sky". Ward even tried to reach the public through a series on mass extinctions on the TV show "Animal Planet" in early 2009.
As you've just heard, Ward's newest work, in the book "The Medea Hypothesis" counters James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis. James Lovelock suggested that life offers a "negative" feedback to counter act dangerous imbalances, like climate change. Ward says such corrections are minor compared to the positive feedback by living things that make the anti-life swing worse.
For example, changes in the Earth's orbit can lead to climate changes. But the reaction of living things to those changing conditions can make things much worse. In fact, says Ward, life threatens life.
The timing of this new book from Princeton University Press has some drawbacks. It tosses geological time into an already confused public, just as we draw up to the December Climate Treaty talks. For example, from the latest science, Ward has assembled our best look at how life will eventually die out on Earth. That's in half a billion to a billion years. It's frightening - but not anything to worry about now. I'm concerned that uneducated people will draw all these fears into the now, into their own personal insecurities. That could lead the public to accept more extreme and untested geoengineering solutions, even though the worst problems are millennia or even millions of years away.
I'm also hesitant to deconstruct Gaia at this critical juncture. We've finally got a portion of humanity into the idea that all life forms are interconnected, on the same team. That's very important to saving endangered species and ecosystems. If we teach that Nature is a killer bitch, then all our ecological crimes, like mountain top removal mining, might be justified. We may need the Gaia myth to survive, even if it's only partly true.
For the record, I wish Peter Ward had chosen a male to represent the killer urge. When children are murdered, usually the male is responsible, in both humans and animals. Why make this evil female, again?
In our current dive into rapid climate change, Ward thinks human intervention - geoengineering - is the only possible answer. We humans have to become the brains of life systems, he says.
That kind of talk kind of drives me crazy. We're already so crazy. It reminds me of Dick Cheney and the New American Century, a kind of insane coup to replace natural systems with mirrors, gears, and chains of command. Who will run the planetary thermostat? Who will try to balance plankton in the oceans? Glenn Beck or the Octomom? Check out our Radio Ecoshock special on the risks of Geoengineering, with scientist Alan Robock. That's a free mp3 download, the September 25th, 2009 program in our archive at ecoshock.org.
We got into this mess by our hubris - and somehow I doubt we'll escape by the same.
Ward leaves me schizophrenic. I love his science, and heavily recommend this new book, The Medea Hypothesis. I mistrust his personal conclusions when it comes to the last chapters. Still, maybe we will have to save ourselves, somehow, instead of trusting to Nature, which is willing to let us go into oblivion. You be the judge. Gaia or Medea?
Before we come back with the inside scoop on Radio Ecoshock, let's break for a new climate anthem. It's rewrite of the famous hit "Beds Are Burning" by Midnight Oil - update for the new treaty talks in Copenhagen.
The new version is available all over the Net, be sure and check out the video. There are dozens of artists including Duran Duran, Mark Ronson, Jamie Cullum, Melanie Laurent, Marion Cotillard, Milla Jovovich, Fergie, Lilly Allen, Bob Geldof, Youssou N’Dour, Yannick Noah and many more. It opens with a quote from Kofi Anan, UN Secretary General, and ends with another by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
[song "Beds Are Burning - TckTckTck Campaign"]
Watch the video at www.timeforclimatejustice.org. It's all part of the TckTckTck Campaign - the giant clock in the sky counting down our carbonated approach to climate catastrophe. Or not, if by some miracle, we can convince our alleged leaders to act in time.
Note that the original lead singer of Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning", Peter Garrett, is now the Environment Minister of Australia!
Usually I ask the questions around here. Last week a local college producer, Trevor VanHemert rang up to interview me. Many of the questions he asked might be things regular listeners have wondered about. So here goes a 15 minute excursion into our program, in our fourth year of broadcasting.
[Alex on the future of... radio and society]
Our program is building momentum in the guests we have, but I still need your help to spread it to more stations. If you don't have Radio Ecoshock in your area, please contact the nearest non-profit station and ask for it. Just a few requests can make a big impact. Surely we need to get this message out to the widest audience as fast as we can.
The climate news keeps pouring in. One good source is H.E. Taylor's link lists called "Another Week of Global Warming News". Just Google that, and you'll find it. His sub-title is true enough: "Sipping from the Internet Fire hose". That's what it feels like, as hundreds of thousands of scientists, institutions and NGO's work through the climate puzzle, under a tightening deadline. Beware you don't get blasted straight backwards by the force of new information. Not to mention the sad reports of a planetary ecosystem in crisis mode.
Lately I've been knocked over by the latest scientific findings, and we'll continue to cover that. But now it's time to get back to the streets, activism, and solutions.
Next week I'll be covering a conference called "Resilient Cities: Urban Strategies for Transition Times", including a panel from the Post Carbon Institute. Some big green speakers will be at the conference, people you'll want to hear.
The following weekend is October 24th, the day when we all show up for the climate. I'll be covering the crowds and action in my hometown, and collecting audio from all over the world for Radio Ecoshock.
Other programs I'm working on: green activism, what's going on; digging in, the urban survival movement; - and the global impacts of.... dust. And finally, that interview with Richard Heinberg about his new book "Blackout".
And through it all - the nagging feeling of an economy falling apart. We'll wrap with a ditty from Loudon Wainwright the Third. Remember "Dead Skunk In the Middle of the Road?" Same artist, recorded live in a New York City park June 19th, 2009. It’s called “Fear Itself”. At the end, Wainwright just throws up his hands, there's no where else to go.
Our web site is ecoshock.org. Thanks for listening.