onsdag 27 oktober 2010

The Gaia theory

I must say, sometimes being a biochemist can be quirky. It enables you to read things - things not relevant to the work you're currently doing - out of other fields of biological research, and grasp concepts that rely on the understanding of the basic organic chemistry that is life as we know it.

Anyway, while reading about transposons, I quickly wanted to confirm something on Wikipedia. Which, naturally, lead to some wiki jumping (I have no idea if that's the correct term;  it just means that you jump from one Wikipedia article to another, sometimes not even finishing the current before skipping on to the next). I jumped from DNA transposons, to DNA, to TNA (threose nucleic acid), to abiogenesis, to the Gaia theory.

For those of you yet unfamiliar with the concept, the Gaia theory (originally by James Lovelock in the 1960s) proposes that the Earth is one big organism, where the biosphere and the biota (biomass) as a whole regulates the Earth to sustain life as we know it. Now, I can understand why some people would consider this both strange and frightening, but we humans as a race can be really silly at times. The theory, however, has some very valid points. And it makes for interesting reading :)

Now, while I definitely have heard about the Gaia hypothesis before, I've never really read anything insightful concerning it. Still, the wiki article snagged me, and I kept on reading it all the way down to the references. Before the reference part however, the text mainly talks about the "political" side of the Gaia theory: how the Earth as a whole is threatened by us humans too rapidly changing the biosphere to suit our needs.

This is the last part out of the article:

[James Lovelock] claims that Gaia's self-regulation will likely prevent any extraordinary runaway effects that wipe out life itself, but that humans will survive and be "culled and, I hope, refined."
According to James Lovelock, by 2040, the world population of more than six billion will have been culled by floods, drought and famine. Indeed "[t]he people of Southern Europe, as well as South-East Asia, will be fighting their way into countries such as Canada, Australia and Britain".
"By 2040, parts of the Sahara desert will have moved into middle Europe. We are talking about Paris - as far north as Berlin. In Britain we will escape because of our oceanic position."
"If you take the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions, then by 2040 every summer in Europe will be as hot as it was in 2003 - between 110F and 120F. It is not the death of people that is the main problem, it is the fact that the plants can't grow — there will be almost no food grown in Europe."
"We are about to take an evolutionary step and my hope is that the species will emerge stronger. It would be hubris to think humans as they now are God's chosen race.
Lovelock believes it is too late to repair the damage.
After having read this, I wonder... In 2040 I will be 57 years old. If the climate in Finland will be Mediterranean, and the population will be over the 5 million people that we are today, and the Baltic sea will be a congealing algae soup... then we'll all know that Mr Lovelock was right.

It really makes you think, especially since we humans now use up resources in 9 months that it takes the planet 12 months to generate. Any thoughts? (Except the one where you say "don't trust everything you read - confirm it first!")

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