Thursday, April 27, 2006

In the grip of a morbid fever

I've been reading the recent James Lovelock book, The Revenge of Gaia, in which he offers his latest prognosis on the health of planet earth. Lovelock's view of the earth as a living system was seen as radical and hippyish for years but not these days. His deep understanding of climate change is now widely accepted and his metaphor of the earth well developed, accessible and powerful in its ability to explain complex issues in terms a layman can understand.

Lovelock sees himself as the earth's physician, his role to help diagnose what is causing the morbid fever that is taking hold of his patient, and to recommend treatment. But he has some very bad news for the friends and family of mother earth; she's in the grip of a progressive disease with a limited range of outcomes; either she'll die and the disease with her, or she'll live and eliminate the disease or, patient and disease will struggle with each other until they achieve some kind of symbiosis. Of course humankind is the disease and the last outcome is looking extremely unlikely, especially if we continue with business as usual. Like he says, it's pretty grim news for friends and family and I really don’t know whether or how I might begin to explain that to my kids.

Sometimes I think we've been reenacting this global tragedy in our household in the three months we've been doing this experiment. I have the washingqueen down as the patient and arrogantly put myself in the role of physician, trying to advise her on how to be more green and sensitive. Trouble is I think she has me down as the disease, trying to destroy the delicate balance of our household, established through years of living together and deeply embedded in our daily routines. Adjusting this balance takes time and the last few months has had a greater than usual incidence of arguments and flare-ups as the patient has resisted treatment, mistaken it for disease and struck back with terrifying force. But overall, little by little, and I think the washingqueen would agree with me on this, at a household level we have been making gradual progress towards a new balance.

Of course there's lots more we could do but at least we have begun to take more seriously the need to do our bit and to start to do it. I just hope and pray that humankind will have the wit, wisdom and foresight to be able to do something similar at a planetary level. If Lovelock's predictions are true, and they have good currency amongst the scientific communities, then we should all prepare for a big shakeup of our planetary habits - whether we initiate them ourselves or wait for mother earth to take her revenge for causing her fever. And I fear mother earth will be far more vengeful than my sweet washingqueen.