Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Gaia Consequences
It was the tweet from comedian Wil Anderson that alarmed me the most. Wil is a very smart man, with a razor sharp wit, but his comment on Friday afternoon that “the planet seems really pissed off right now” was not, I think, meant as a joke. In fact, as the calamity in Japan has unfolded that same sentiment is being heard time and again; in shopping malls, at family barbeques, endlessly online and even on 60 Minutes, where Charles Wooley left hanging in the air the ominous threat that “nature has delivered mankind such a cruel of hand of late it would be easy to believe we are being taught a lesson."
But is the planet really pissed off? And if it is pissed off, then with whom? Mankind, according to Charles. That'd be us, then. And why? Well, that one’s easy. Because of our wicked ways, driving our cars around and forgetting to switch off the lights. The Planet (the least we can do to show our respect is give it a capital P) clearly has had enough. And to remind us who’s boss, It – or rather, She, because, lets face it, this sort of furious megatantrum bears all the hallmarks of a disgruntled female at a certain time of the month - has unleashed on us in the last year alone a terrifying tally:  three major earthquakes, a handful of cyclones, some truly mindboggling rain and floods - one could almost say of “biblical proportions” – some pretty nasty bushfires, a frozen wasteland in Europe, and a couple of mudslides for good measure. She’s pissed off alright.
And who’s to blame her? We were warned, after all. Her prophets, those She has chosen to communicate with us on Her behalf , can barely contain their glee. One can clearly read their thoughts: We told you so. For how many years have we been spelling it out? And still you didn’t listen! You ignorant people with your plastic carrier bags and your flat screen TV’s. Well, here it is - Armageddon. Enjoy!
Is it too ridiculous to say that the Planet is punishing us for treating her so badly over the last, say, two hundred years – since the industrial revolution? The answer is Yes. Of course it is too ridiculous. In fact, it is insane. Regardless of one’s belief or otherwise in the science of anthropogenic warming, there is no possible, logical, scientific way in which the planet could deliberately set out to teach we naughty mortals a lesson. Nonetheless, this thought, or a germ thereof, has taken root. Over the last few days I can guarantee every one of us has heard such comments as “We must be doing something wrong”, “There’s never been anything like this before”, “There must be something we can do to stop this,” or even the seemingly innocent “What on earth is going on?”
Humans are intelligent creatures. They don’t, for instance, stop one another in the street on the way home from work and say “Why is it getting dark?” They know the answer. They don’t need to ask. We also know why the earthquakes occurred. The tectonic plates are shifting. Again. We know why the floods occurred. There was a surplus of rain. Again. We know why the bushfires occurred. Some creep tossed a cigarette butt onto some dry grass. Again. We also know that these events are not linked. So why do we need to ask what is going on?
Humans are self-obsessed. In explaining the evolutionary traits responsible for all tribes having developed a belief in some form or other of god, Richard Dawkins (in The God Delusion) theorizes that humans, when confronted with natural disasters outside their control, quickly develop a belief system that sees their own bad actions or behavior as an explanation for the deity supposedly responsible for that disaster having become upset. The gods are pissed off.
We can’t help ourselves. We always want to take the blame. We are determined to ascribe to Nature, or the Planet, or Zeus, or whoever else the ability and desire to punish us for the bad things that we as human beings have committed. We like punishment for our sins. You might even say we thrive on it. And our great civilizations, when confronted with those forces of nature that cowed and terrified them, were quick to recognize that they needed to appease these gods and atone for their sins. Murdering or torturing virgins and children was one way, but burning alive the local old biddy would also do the trick. Anything to stop Mother Nature from treating us in such a mean-spirited way.
Here’s how it goes. Stop me when you think I’m getting too nutty. The Industrial Revolution was the Original Sin (started, not entirely coincidentally, by evil, greedy white anglo-saxons).  In exchange for the ugliness of our consumer society of TV’s and Shopping Malls we have compromised the delicate and beautiful balance – and goodness - of nature. The Planet has only one way of redressing this balance, and it’s going to hurt. Unless we immediately make certain painful ritual sacrifices – such as paying daily through the nose for everything we do that happens to involve the use of electricity or petrol – we can look forward to even more disasters courtesy of the Planet.
Because She is pissed off.
You still with me? Good. Certainly the recently appointed Chairman of the Federal Climate Commission, Tim Flannery, would probably not disagree with the above. As tax payers we will be handing him $180,000 a year to convince us of a very similar hypothesis. The semi-religious concept of Gaia (interestingly, named after a Greek goddess) in essence sees the earth as a single organism or “entity” capable of making such judgments about human behavior and wreaking the appropriate revenge. Every time we question what we know to be fact – tectonic plates have zilch to do with carbon dioxide emissions, cyclones and earthquakes are in no way linked - and look beyond our scientific knowledge for some “deeper” explanation, we take a step closer to embracing a new religion or mysticism.
There’s a strong possibility of yet another earthquake along the “ring of fire” in the next few months, or even weeks. Quite possibly in Los Angeles or South America. Science tells us so. But so does belief in a vengeful goddess who does not see us mending our ways.
Time to get down on your knees and start praying. To Gaia.
copyright Rowan Dean
Rowan Dean is a panelist on the Gruen Transfer and marketing consultant to 2UE.

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