God, Gaia, and Biophilia

Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis

from Dhushara Website

recovered through WayBackMachine Website


The Biophilia Hypothesis

1993 {ISBN 1559631473}

  • Prelude: "A Siamese Connexion with a Plurality of Other Mortals"/ Scott McVay / 3

  • Introduction / Stephen R. Kellert / 20

  • Chapter 1: Biophilia and the Conservation Ethic / Edward 0. Wilson / 31

  • Chapter 2: The Biological Basis for Human Values of Nature / Stephen R. Kellert / 42

  • Chapter 3: Biophilia, Biophobia, and Natural Landscapes / Roger S. Ulrich / 73

  • Chapter 4: Humans, Habitats, and Aesthetics / Judith H. Heerwagen and Gordon H. Orians / 138

  • Chapter 5: Dialogue with Animals: Its Nature and Culture / Aaron Katcher and Gregory Wilkins / 173

  • Chapter 6: Searching for the Lost Arrow: Physical and Spiritual Ecology in the Hunter's World / Richard Nelson / 201

  • Chapter 7: The Loss of Floral and Faunal Story: The Extinction of Experience / Gary Paul Nabhan and Sara St. Antoine / 229

  • Chapter 8: New Guineans and Their Natural World / Jared Diamond / 251

  • Chapter 9: On Animal Friends / Paul Shepard / 275

  • Chapter 10: The Sacred Bee, the Filthy Pig, and the Bat Out of Hell: Animal Symbolism as Cognitive Biophilia / Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence / 301

  • Chapter 11: God, Gaia, and Biophilia / Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis / 345

  • Chapter 12: Of Life and Artifacts / Madhav Gadgil / 365

  • Chapter 13: Biophilia, Selfish Genes, Shared Values / Holmes Rolston III / 381

  • Chapter 14: Love It or Lose It: The Coming Biophilia Revolution / David W. Orr / 415

  • Chapter 15: Biophilia: Unanswered Questions / Michael E. Soul / 441



Chapter 11: God, Gaia, and Biophilia


EVER SINCE THE human species evolved some 4 million years ago it has been expanding, first by nomadic hunting and gathering, then, in civilized times, by agriculture and industry. As our numbers have grown we have changed the environment. At this late juncture we have come to see that there is no way we can expand indefinitely without imposing indefinite unpleasant changes on the environment. We have walked on enough concrete, smelled enough air pollution, eaten enough processed food to realize that the sort of comfort afforded us by technology in the long ran differs from, and is less sustainable than, the green fruit tree paradise of our simian ancestors. Our evolution has brought us beyond a point of no return.

The new high regard for earth is not unlike the feelings of customers at a fabulous small restaurant that is getting big. As word spreads of the restaurant's outstanding quality, more and more people come until the restaurant expands, new management comes, and the restaurant is no longer superb and small but lousy, perhaps even part of a national chain. Likewise, owing primarily to the fortuitously evolved manipulative skills of certain grass-walking African mammals, humans have always fed well on the victuals of earth.


We have transformed local ecologies into technology, killed animals for clothing and meat, grown plants for food, shaped rocks and trees into shelter and tools. Like the small restaurant that was so good it became lousy, earth was so paradisiacal and susceptible to technological plunder that we plundered it-and are now faced with the results. Unlike the restaurant, WC have no place else to eat.

In this essay we attempt to show how our technological plundering of the planet has forced us to revalue our biological connections to other species and living beings. This revaluation is forcing us to see the collusion in our way of life of traditional Western religion, which has provided an impetus for our technological plundering. Moreover, this same judeo-Christianity still undergirds the assumptions of much "secular" science.

The renewed focus on the positive aspects of our connections to other living things has lately been called biophilia, from the Greek words for love and life. But as we can see from the use of the word lousy above-an adjective derived from a parasitic clinging insect-our connections to other lifeforms are not always positive. In fact, the emotional palette of our responses to life-forms is rich, labile, and complex. Specific life-forms "push our buttons" - they elicit strong, relatively constant responses varying from disgust (maggots, bacterial infection), care (kittens, puppies), horror (spiders, snakes), awe (tigers), and well-being (magnolia trees, actinobacteria with their woodland scent) to longing or envy (birds in flight).


As E.O. Wilson has suggested in his coining of the term biophilia, our intrinsic love for life can be used to help preserve crucial reserves of planetary biodiversity. He has further suggested that our positive affections, such as our appreciation for lush greenery, may be inbred-genetically based on the importance such early life-forms held for us. Other sensations, such as our instinctive avoidance of butyl mercaptan, the noxious ingredient in skunk spray, seem to benefit other organisms by keeping us away. We are, like many insects and other mammals, manipulated by our love of sweets and fresh colors, which over the millennia have induced us, for example, to eat cherries and hence act as couriers of the immobile cherry tree's seeds.

The point is that there is no simple biophilia, no unconditional, unchanging love for members of other species. Some men love racing cars and, indeed, may be attracted to the curvaceous bikini-clad women advertisers portray with such cars. We are attracted to bright colors, as well, an attraction whose application to painted automobiles comes long after the evolutionary crucial biophilia of primates to trees with brightly colored fruits. So not only is our love for life impure, not only do we have mixed feelings toward other life-forms, but our affection is also changeable, plastic.

With such complexities, such an admixture of feelings both positive and negative, and subtler states in between, a mixture which can moreover be changed and applied to more recent technological objects, it is difficult to speak monolithically of biophilia, a simple love of life. Perhaps it would be better to speak of prototaxis-the generalized tendency of cells and organisms to react to each other in distinct ways. Ivan E. Wallin defines prototaxis in Symbionticism and the Origin of species as the "innate [that is, genetic] tendency of one organism or cell to react in a definite manner to another organism or cell."


Let us think then of both positive and negative biophilia (sometimes called biophobia) as aspects of global prototaxis. The principle of prototaxis ought to be perceived as intrinsic to living beings, all of which have distinct lineages and combinations of genes. Like Wallin's profound conclusions on the role of symbiosis in the origin of species (Mehos 1992) and in embryogenesis, this notion of prototaxis is not well known.

Biologists define pioneering species as those which spread rapidly throughout an environment but quickly saturate it and reach their limit. Pioneer species are the first to come-like the customers in the restaurant parable. Although the term usually applies to plants, a case can be made that human beings, combined with our technology, are the global equivalent of a pioneer species. We may now have reached our saturation point, the limits of our growth; if so, we may be detecting signals from our living environment that it is no longer able to support continuous growth.

In the pioneering stage people told themselves stories that made it seem as if it were our destiny to endlessly plunder the natural environment, converting animals, plants, and rocks into extensions of ourselves. In retrospect these stories, which center, in the West, on the monotheistic conceit that humanity is Numero Uno for whose benefit God has made all other life-forms, were the rallying cry of a nomadic tribe. But the tribe, having become sedentary on all the continents of the globe, is no longer nomadic. Nonetheless, as often happens in cultural evolution, information continues to flow long after it is useful.


Moreover, this data lag can be seen not only in the prescientific histories of religion, but in the scientific sagas that replaced or supplemented them. And, of course, the most compelling of these scientific supplements is the story of evolution. But evolution no more evolved from nothing than God did. It, too, appeared within a social setting and cultural milieu. A telling marker of what might be called cryptotheism-a lingering of theological thought in scientific discourse-can be found in much present-day evolutionary biological, ecological, and environmental discourse.


This marker is the prevalence with which even the most Darwinian of naturalists reserve some favored trait to distinguish humanity from the rest of life on earth, the rest of what was once called "Creation." Thus we are told by turns that humans are uniquely superior due to our upright posture (allowing us to think of ourselves as literally "above" other species), our opposable thumb (man the tool user), our linguistic abilities (man the symbol user, the storyteller), our super-animalistic soul (Descartes' ploy), our self-awareness, our moral superiority (even in the absence of God), one of the most recent and desperate euphemisms: our "big brains."


Even Stephen Jay Gould, an ardent foe of the idea of progress in evolution (1980), would have us believe (and he is by no means alone) that all other organisms on the planet are shackled to the ancient system of natural selection whereas humans, and humans alone, can evolve through "cultural selection." Of course, Darwin's very term, "natural selection," was coined in comparison to the "artificial selection" of animal breeders. Darwin wanted to show the evolution of all species from a common ancestor. But he also had to make evolutionary theory palatable to a monotheistic populace.


The acceptance of evolutionary theory required that it take over many functions of Judeo-Christianity-and in doing so compromised from the start the potential for a biophilia which would have seemed natural considering the kinship Darwin demonstrated between human and other life-forms. If we believe that other animals have feelings, that we have no intrinsic superiority over them but are part of a global nexus of life, we are confronted with a moral crisis. This is the crisis of the animal rights groups and those who believe that humans are compromising the welfare of planetary life. As our growth and exploitation of resources force us to reconsider our relationship with other life-forms, we may find new value in systems of beliefs either dismissed by Christianity or absorbed by monotheism.


The animism, theriomorphism (totem worship), pantheism, and polytheism that preceded the advent of monotheism as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam may contain powerful sources for present and future action and reflection. Culturally, biophilia and biodiversity arc scientifically sanctioned catchwords calling for us to attend seriously to nature and our responses to nature-forms of attention already more fully developed in traditions less nomadic and technologically expansive than those of the West. If the love of life and the preservation of biodiversity are to become planet-scale education projects, Western countries should certainly lead the way-and by example, not by preaching. Ethically speaking, the West, which has led the way in environmental destruction, has the greatest obligation to restore biodiversity.

Yet nature is already saved and, moreover, largely out of our hands. If once we thought all organisms were for our benefit, and later we thought we could with bombs kill off all life on the planet, it is once again a mark of our hubris to think that we may now save the biological world. It is true that the current rate of extinction on the surface of the earth is comparable to major losses-the so-called mass extinctions-of life in prehistory. Indeed, the current rate of extinction is estimated to be the greatest since the end of the Cretaceous. A planetary catastrophe (implicated in the demise, among many other life-forms, of all the dinosaurs) may well have been caused by a bolide (meteorite, comet, or planetoid) landing offshore the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

The recent mass extinctions are claimed to differ, however, in that they arise not from an outside force but from within, as the result of human expansion. Some would have us think that the wreaking of such havoc on the environment is unparalleled in earth's long history. This is a kind of negative theology making us, if not God's chosen ones, then his prodigal sons, in any case, as good guys or bad, we remain the stars of the evolutionary show. The deflating fact, however, is that we have been preceded in our massive ecocide by other life-forms.

Because of the limited materials on the earth's surface, organisms have been competing for resources, polluting environments, and feeding on unprotected corpses and living bodies for over 3 billion years. The whole change over of the atmosphere-from an anaerobic one suited for organisms poisoned by oxygen to an oxygen-rich one suitable to our ancestors occurred as the result of a pollution crisis. Before we bow down in fear to our shadows as the grim reapers of evolution, let us remember that the Chinese ideogram for crisis combines the sign of "danger" with that of opportunity" and recall, too, that other organisms have dangerously altered the planetary environment before us.


Two billion years ago cyanobacteria, newly evolved microorganisms that used the hydrogen of water for photosynthesis, plunged the biosphere into crisis mode. Their "waste"-the free oxygen that sent thousands of varieties of organisms to early graves-altered the previous planetary habitat forever. From the point of view of anaerobes, the global environment was ruined. But for the oxygen-tolerant and oxygen-respiring forms among which are to be counted our remote bacterial ancestors, this ecocide, this destroying of the planetary home, made life possible.

Chaos mathematics, disequilibrium thermodynamics, and complexity studies have shown how certain structures, which seem fragile, amorphous, or dangerously out of balance, are as often as not at a bifurcation a turning point or critical juncture on the way to still more complex structures. Planet Earth with its global human-fostered technology may presently be undergoing such a difficult transition period. The case history of cyanobacteria is worth thinking about when people, scientists among them, sound the alarms for us to gather round and "save the planet." By innovatively using light to split water, and rampantly growing wherever they could, cyanobacteria altered the atmosphere and poisoned large numbers of its inhabitants, not least of all themselves.


Our hunting of animals for food, our razing of trees in lush species-rich Amazonia, and our urbanization of landmasses have also degraded the environment in a major way. People have every right to care about such degradation and loss of species, to fight against it and organize Brazilian mutual funds or whatever it takes to preserve biodiversity. There are, as many have pointed out, aesthetic, pharmaceutical, genetic, historical, and other reasons for saving the environment. The most important of these, and least often mentioned, may be the relationship of certain lush regions of the earth and the present bio-geochemical regime-not just global climate, but global chemistry-that supports human beings.

But let us not kid ourselves into thinking we are saving life on earth as a whole. For all we know the demise of human beings may accelerate the appearance of some new complexity as far beyond primate intelligence as primate intelligence is beyond rodent responsiveness. After all, without the decline of the reptiles, mammals might never have been able to come into their own.


So let us cut through the salvationist hyperbole and sec that talk of saving the world really means saving that part of the planetary environment which has traditionally and comfortably supported human beings. It is fine to urge the salvation of the environment in which our species first flourished, but in fact even this cannot be done. Any return to green pastures, flowering fruit trees, bubbling brooks, and rolling glades will be a turn not of the circle but of the spiral. Or, as the Buddhists say, all beings are already saved.

Although the loss of charismatic large animals such as elephants, giraffes, and tigers from the surface of the planet would represent a tragedy comparable, on a smaller scale, to the murder of members of one's own family, it is not true that our rapidly multiplying, change-engendering life-form is the only one ever to cause mass extinctions of fellow organisms. Only a sort of well-wishing, or perhaps a deep guilt combined with an equally deep repression, can make us forget life's inescapably murderous legacy. Once hears a Christian, even a Puritan, echo in the talk of our need to save the planet. In fact, we cannot stop evolution.


We can, and probably should, try to stop certain global human activities among which may be counted overuse of plastics, rain forest destruction, and soil erosion. But to think that by doing so or not we are either going to kill off life on earth or save it is a form of unscientific self-aggrandizement. Such egotism smacks of the dated Christian notion of people being one step above the beasts and two steps after the an gels below God. In terms of biophilia and biodiversity, we believe it is better to think of ourselves as all just a part of Gaia and not even, in any way, the most important part.

What is Gaia? Although memorizable phrases may be inadequate and specious we can try to convey the power of Gaia as principle and being.

First of all, on the cultural level, as a conscious taking of the name of the ancient Greek earth goddess and mother of the Titans, Gaia disturbs, perhaps even cancels out, the lingering theology of an external male god who has made humanity in his image and then narcissistically countenanced us to use the rest of creation to be fruitful and multiply ourselves. Roughly, Gaia is the nexus and nest, the global life and environment, the planetary surface seen as body rather than place. Recognizing prototactic living organisms such that they, in their patchy environments, themselves become selective agents is essential to the Gaian view of life on earth.


The 3 to 30 million species of protoctists (protists: ciliates, foraminifera, algae, amoebae, and their largo descendants), fungi, animals and plants, and the entire bacterial continuum of gene-exchanging microbes together with their physical surroundings prevent the rampant exponential growth of populations: simply put, Gaia is Darwin's natural selector. All of these organisms have a tendency for population explosion. That this enormous population potential falls to be reached is Darwin's lesson. There are checks upon growth at all times throughout the life cycles of all organisms. Gaia, the sum of the interacting organisms of the biosphere, checks growth and therefore acts as the natural selector.

The Gaia hypothesis claims that, on earth, the atmosphere, hydrosphere, surface sediments, and all living beings together (the biota) behave as a single integrated system with properties more akin to systems of physiology than those of physics. The traditional Darwinian view is a linear scheme in which organisms are affected by the environment and the environment in turn is the result of chemical and physical forces. This linear scheme may owe much to the Victorian era of science in which Darwin worked, an era in which, to make evolution acceptable to a religious populace, Darwin had to give it a credible, detailed mechanism.


Since the most respected science of the time was the physical discoveries of Isaac Newton, Darwin tried to portray evolution as the result of blind principles and mechanical interactions, just as Newton had portrayed gravity. Gaia has a different view of the environment. It is seen less as matter interacting blindly than as a superordinated collection of living things. The environment, far from being a static backdrop influenced only by physical and chemical forces, is highly active and biologically modulated.

The environment is an integral part of the Gaian system of the living earth as seen from space. The Gaia hypothesis asserts that the temperature and aspects of the chemical composition of the earth's surface are directly regulated by the metabolic, growth, and reproductive activities of a vast biota. Gaia theory, first formulated by British inventor and atmospheric chemist James E. Lovelock in the late 1960s, has been developed in the scientific literature for more than twenty-five years (Margulis and Lovelock 1989).


Recent forays into Gaia science have been boosted by continued space exploration: views of the entire globe from orbit in comparison with other planets greatly influence all of us: clearly life on the planet is some kind of interacting unity. If symbiosis is defined as the living together in protracted physical continuity of different kinds of organisms then, as Hinkle (1992) asserts, Gaia is simply symbiosis seen from space.

In its stronger forms, the Gaia hypothesis claims that the mean global temperature, the composition of reactive gases in the atmosphere, and the salinity and alkalinity of the oceans are not only influenced but regulated, at a planetary level, by the flora, fauna, and microorganisms. This regulation, as we have seen, is not completely homeostatic. It is not like the thermostat of a house set at a single temperature for all time. It is homeorrhetic-regulated around what systems engineers call a moving set point, a set point which can change, as when global oxygen rose from a trace gas to a major constituent of the earth's atmosphere some 2 billion years ago.


If we look at the development of a human body, from fertilized egg through blastula and embryo to child and adult, it becomes clear that the regulation of living systems is far more complex and fascinating than anything so far engineered. The chemical reactions of a physiological system. unlike those of an inert physical (geological orgeochemical) system, are under active biological control. In the absence of the global physiology postulated by Gaia, variables such as global mean temperature, atmospheric composition, and ocean salinity would be deducible directly from Earth's position in the solar system. These aspects of the planetary surface, responding to changes in the energy output of the sun, would conform to the known physical and chemical laws.

Yet an examination of Earth's surface shows that such aspects vary widely from what would be expected based on the principles alone of physics, chemistry, and other non-biological sciences. These principles predict that Earth should have reached a chemical steady state with carbon dioxide and nitrogen as compatible gases, as on Mars or Venus, for example.


Chemically, however, Earth is extraordinarily anomalous: oxygen, methane, and hydrogen coexist in the atmosphere carbon dioxide is in decorative carbonate rocks instead of in the air; iron is found in huge bands from kilometer-wide to micron-scale patterns; ancient gold is intertwined with long stretches of organic carbon in locales few and far between: Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Michepecoten, Ontario. Such planet-wide disparities are what led Lovelock to propose the Gaia hypothesis that the earth is a physiological system.

The Gaia hypothesis has been criticized because of its controversial claim that the earth behaves like a living being. Some believe that Gaian views lend credence to the idea that Earth - the global biota in its gaseous and aqueous environment - is a single gigantic organism. Since this notion resonates with ancient beliefs and, relative to Western secularism, leads to a radical re-enchanting of the world, it has come in for suspicion, especially from the Neo-Darwinian biologists whose non-chemical view of life Gaia threatens to make irrelevant by comparison. Nonetheless, an organism-like response of the planetary environment and its biota is clearly detectable-a behavior distinguishing Earth from Mars, Venus, Mercury, and any outer planet or its moons.


The evidence in support of the Gaian idea that the earth's surface behaves as a macrobody includes the realization that the atmosphere is an extension of the biota. If the earth's surface were not covered with oxygen-emitting bacteria, algae, and plants, as well as methane and hydrogen-producing bacteria and countless other organisms, its atmosphere would long ago have degenerated to the same carbon dioxide-rich steady state that today can be found on Mars and Venus (Margulis and Olendzenski 1991).

Another strong argument for Gaia comes from astrophysical models of the evolution of stars. Early in its history the sun was some 30 to40 percent cooler than it is at present. Yet fossil evidence shows that life has existed since just after the earth's formation. (The Earth-Moon system is 4-.6 billion years old and the first fossil communities, domed rocklike structures called stromatolites, left their record at least 3.9 billion years ago.) The more control on the global scale is analogous to that within the human body.


Biological homeostasis might be accomplished by myriad interacting mechanisms-all products of the evolutionary process. Ocean salt regulation may even be achieved, at least in part, by the formation of evaporate flats. We know these structures result from activities of microbial communities and we know they can tic up great quantities of salt. Lovelock (1988) has even argued that life has influenced the movement of continental crust to the tropical regions, where rapid evaporation occurs. If this is the case then even plate tectonic movement is encompassed within the sprawling realm of life.

Gaia has evolved by prototaxis coupled with continuously checked exponential growth. Earth's atmosphere maintains an anomalous amount of oxygen (about 20 percent) in the presence of gases that react with it; the surface atmosphere has a mean mid-latitude temperature of 18'C; the pH of the lower atmosphere and oceans is slightly greater than 8. All of these values have been relatively constant for millions of years, and all are within ranges permissive to life. Such persistent and drastic differences between Earth and its neighbours reinforce the Gaian view of planet Earth and its recognition that biota and environment-biosphere-form one planet-wide homeorrhetic system.


Prototaxis of the individual components leads the system to respond with alacrity to tendencies of the physical and chemical surroundings toward excursions beyond the limits to life. One predictable response includes the rapid growth of populations of metabolically and morphologically distinctive organisms whose interactions stabilize the whole.

Biodiversity is essential, therefore, to the physiology of the planet and perhaps we "biophiliacs" sense this. Sensitivity (and therefore prototaxis), biodiversity, and exponential growth rates of populations are intrinsic to Gaian physiology, but therein lies the rub. Gaia persisted long before people described or even worshipped her. Gaia, with or without humans, is likely to generate more diversity and continue to persist long after the extinction or speciation of humans, perhaps even after the atmosphere is depleted of the carbon dioxide needed to cool itself in the face of an increasingly luminous sun. Gaia, radiating forms of diversity as yet only dimly conceivable to us, may even survive the predicted explosion of the sun into a red giant, a final magnificent sunset which will boil away earth's oceans.

Let us try to come to grips with this evolutionary becoming that swamps the human species no less than the march of generations tramples an individual animal's life span. Evolution is a planetary phenomenon of thermodynamic disequilibrium: powered by the sun and, so far as is known, confined, until very recently, to the surface of the earth.


(One of us would argue that Apollo, Soyuz, Viking, Mariner, Voyager, and other such missions represent the beginnings of a planetary budding, organic in nature, that will culminate in the extravagant reproduction of offspring biospheres; Sagan 1992.)


The strongest argument for biophilia (and for the hypothetical outcome of biophilia's disciplined practice, biodiversity) is not ethical.


Our reaction to other life-forms may be highly negative-as it is with cockroaches, spiders, maggots, snakes, rats, indeed virtually any organisms that reproduce rapidly or threaten to harm our person. Biophobia and biophilia are part of a finely differentiated prototaxis that extends throughout not only the animal but also the plant, fungal, protoctist, and bacterial kingdoms. Although plants, for example, do not have emotional reactions, their chemistry, their smells and visual attributes, draw to them and keep away certain very specific others. Fungi, too, elicit strong emotional responses through chemistry alone, as in the human aversion to toadstools.

The presence of biophilia suggests we not only love birds and flowers but also have an inbred contempt, distaste, and perhaps hatred of certain other life-forms. Even if we were to obey Kant's categorical imperative and treat all beings, starting with humans, as ends rather than means, cultivation of biophilia in the broad sense would lead us not to preserve biodiversity but only favored plants and animals.

"All organisms are equal," we seem sometimes to want to say in the discourse on biodiversity, "yet some animals are more equal than others."

Not surprisingly these "more equal" beings are often large mammals either like us or like those found in the savanna in which human primates first evolved. One of the reasons for the decline of the aesthetically pleasing and emotionally resonant beasts such as African elephants and Bengal tigers is that human beings in our agricultural prowess have found shortcuts in the trophic line. From the vantage point of the charismatic vertebrates, and our love for them, this is very sad. But from the view point of an evolving biosphere it maybe analogous to the cost trimming" that goes on in an expanding corporation.

If we were truly serious about saving all other organisms, we would follow Jainist principles and filter our water to save the paramecia. We would surgically implant chloroplasts in our skin in order to photosynthesize ourselves and not uproot lettuce or carrot plants. We certainly would not cavalierly flush away our solid wastes that serve as a breeding ground fore. coli and other gut bacteria. This reductio ad absurdum shows the hypocritical element implicit in the rhetoric of ecological salvation. In fact, part of the reason a predator lie the Bengal tiger is so physically arresting is that it feeds at the top of the trophic chain; it is a carnivore, a killing machine, a king unfairly taxing plant and animal pawns. It has been said that all great poems contain an element of cruelty. Perhaps the same may be said of animals in the biosphere.

Nor is the strongest argument for biophilia practical. Preserving the Amazonian rain forest may serendipitously preserve a tree or insect species from which we can derive a valuable new drug or food or fiber. Such economic incentives may make the difference for a pragmatist, an industrialist trying to reduce quality to quantity on the spread-sheet of profit. For us, however, the strongest argument for a directed biophilia leading to a general if not all-encompassing biodiversity has to do with survival-not the abstract ethical survival of all sentient entities, but our own survival, the preservation of a certain quality of human life.

All life on earth is a unified spatio-temporal system with no clear-cut boundaries. Encouraging our biophilia, preserving blocks of biodiversity before they are converted to concrete skyscrapers and asphalt parking lots, is a way of enhancing the possibility that human beings will persist into the future. This future may be indefinite, as some few species do not become extinct but "scale back" and become symbio-genically attenuated and reintegrated into new forms of life and patterns of living organization.


If we consider, for example, the ancestral oxygen-respirers that evolved into the mitochondria of all plants, animals, and fungi, we would have to say that this mitochondrial "species," co-dependent as it is, has resisted extinction, surviving and spreading (and still going strong) in multifarious forms for some 2,000 million years. Humanity seems to have been presented with an opportunity, rare in evolution, to do likewise. By allying ourselves more closely with once distant life-forms, by affiliating ourselves biophyletically, not only with the plants and animals whose ongoing demise weighs so heavily at present on our memory, but also with the waste-recycling, air-producing, and water-purifying microbes we as yet take largely for granted, we may be able to aid in the flowering of earth life into the astronomically voluminous reaches of space.


Like the ecocidal rampage exacted by the violently fast spread of ancient strains of photosynthetic bacteria, our expansion across the surface of the planet has created environmental havoc, and wholesale biological destruction, in our wake. Like those cyanobacteria we have polluted, we have murdered, we have slaughtered with laughter and pride. Like them, we are not good or evil. Like them, the planetary changes effected by our explosive population growth have prepared the way for strange new living things. In a process of negative feedback not unlike that illustrated by the expanding small restaurant, the worldwide propagation of human beings has led to a planet ever more inhospitable to human life.


As earth becomes increasingly polluted and overcrowded, as the global commons of atmosphere and ocean are spoiled as surely as the common grazing areas of small towns were once destroyed for all, self-sufficient environments at home and abroad, in space and beneath the ocean, become more attractive. Future human settlements may be like Arizona's Biosphere 11: materially closed but informationally and energetically open systems of bio-affiliated life-forms that replenish water and air and indefinitely return their wastes into food, clothing, and shelter. Such biodiversity-containing artificial biospheres, materially separated from the global ecosystem, could also persist in orbit or on the surface of other planets without the need for re-supply from earth.


Because the tendency of all life is to reproduce, and in so doing spoil the environment, such enclaves would provide insurance against global environmental deterioration. Artificial biospheres and closed ecological systems are analogous to aerobes that flourished in the wake of the environmental destruction wreaked by the cyanobacterial spread 2 billion years ago. And, crucially dependent for their existence on both biodiversity and biophilia, they represent the only currently imaginable means of completely recycling wastes into food away from earth. This suggests yet again that the greatest level of living organization yet to evolve is Gaia.

Although Gaia's biodiversity is currently spread across the planet, the thought experiment of biospheres shows how Gaian biodiversity may be individuated" or concentrated into independent units: Gaian offspring. One criticism levelled against Gaia is that earth cannot possibly be an organism, since it has no little ones. Yet the creation of recycling chambers with humans, such as Biosphere 11, currently housing eight humans, food species, and technology near Oracle, Arizona, represents the first wave of an ultimately natural process of Gaia producing little ones. In far more sophisticated, as yet almost inconceivable forms, perhaps such systems will preserve biodiversity after humanity and the death of the sun. From the human perspective biospheres are communities, but from the Gaian perspective they are propagules.

The "technology " needed to cut the material umbilicus to earth, to truly migrate and live independently in space, is nothing other than other life-forms. Only select samples of earth's biodiversity, natural systems with soil bacteria, recycling fungi, food species, and many other organisms can support people in space. Probably nothing else so clearly illustrates that Gaia is not just a metaphor. To survive in space we require thousands of other living beings, entire ecosystems. They are not lower but essential to a life-form of which we are a mere part. Ultimately, we may be a dispensable part. Moreover, despite the great technological accomplishments of the human species, we are not yet close to recreating photosynthesis in the laboratory, let alone miniaturizing it as cellular life does. Gaia's photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation, and other chemical production and waste management abilities are still far ahead of modem technology.

Can we, as humans, destroy the environment we love and yet remain hopeful and festive? Population growth has decimated the earth. An ecologically correct alternative is to rally the peoples of the earth together into an enforced state of stasis, once in which population growth and exploitation of the living environment for human ends are tightly controlled. Certainly what most environmentally minded persons advocate-conservation-itself seems to accord with the precepts of the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the rhetoric of salvation to responsible stewardship over nature. But even assuming that the nationalistic economies of the world could be convinced of the dangers of growth (a doubtful proposition), even assuming that the world's governments could be persuaded to confine themselves to their borders and leave other nations alone, can one truly imagine such retrenchment enduring indefinitely? Would not the stage be set for defectors?

Life on earth is a complex, fractally individuated, chemical system whose basis is a mostly green layer of photosynthetic matter as bacteria, algae, and plants. This layer makes its own nutrition from air, water, and sun. This layer continues to grow and tempt any life-forms that would "cheat" and make use of it (or each other) rather than build themselves from scratch. What with solar radiation impinging on the surface of the earth, and its storage in the sediments as energetically exploitable matter, it seems inevitable that "unfair players," either cheating bands of humans or new species of organisms, will evolve, willing to transgress the enlightened growth-curbed policies of any hypothetical ecologically correct humans.


Conservation on an evolving planet is ultimately a lost cause. Truly considered, this is a very difficult, even a dangerous, thought-indeed, most would rather not think it, as it seems to admit of no solution save a fruitless resignation to the endless murderous quality of life in an energetic universe. Maybe other beings have thought similar thoughts, and that is part of the natural antipathy, revulsion, and embarrassment - all forms, by the way, of biophobia - we sometimes feel face to face with our "ancestors," be they an unhip parent in polyester leisure suit, the fornicating apes Bishop Wilberforce could not admit were his relatives, or the microbial gunk in the sewer. And yet over against this instinctual distaste there is awe that we have come from such and are going-where?


Often the strength and the weakness of something can be one and the same. The Judeo-Christian ethical perspective is a mental safety net protecting us against the onset of a Dionysian nature madness induced by a lack of guidelines. But it can also be an iron gate barring access to visions of the future as well as a clear grasp of biology's amoral status quo.

Once we disabuse ourselves of the ecologically correct inheritance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's liberal nostalgia for a pristine (good, unpolluted, tranquil) past which in fact never existed, we will be in a better position to appreciate our present situation as mere humans trying to survive within a biosphere that our own agricultural and technological manipulations have irreversibly altered. Our very self-centeredness has led us to reproduce without concern for the environment around us. But now our past has caught up with us. We arc stuck in the delicate position of having to undo our ecological karma. At the same time, the epidemic global spread of technological humanity has whittled away the oral traditions of native cultures with specialized knowledge of local ecologies.


Elsewhere in this volume, Paul Shepard focuses our attention on the cultural narcissism of the human species which prefers its wild animals caged and has rendered domestic pets into genetic "goofies" incapable of independent survival. One should note, however, that many other organisms in the history of life have been rendered chronically dependent as a result of inter-specific alliances. Although the ancestors of mitochondria were free-living, independent organisms, their descendants are totally incapable, even in nutrient media, of survival outside the host cell. Thus a movement from, say, free-living wolves to urban dogs dependent on regular servings of pet food may be lamented, but it is hardly unique.

Indeed, if global biospheric relations are undergoing a major reorganization due not so much to the interference of humanity (this would again be the epitome of the shallow-ecological view, since it keeps people apart from nature) but rather the development within the biosphere of the human phenomenon, it is perfectly natural for us as sentient beings to feel distress in the presence of such sweeping changes. What is in question, however, is the assumption that we know that the planet is sick and can fix it by bringing it to some sort of environmental stasis. Without being dismissed as technophiliac, we would like to suggest that the decline in species diversity may be balanced by an increase in technological diversity-a trade-off that may ultimately enhance the longevity of the biosphere.

In 1973 the Soviet biologist M. M. Kamshilov (1976) performed a controlled experiment in which he added harmful phenolic acid to a series of laboratory communities, each more complex than the last. The first ecosystem consisted only of bacteria-the only kingdom of life whose members are varied and biochemically versatile enough to completely recycle foods into wastes without the aid of members of other kingdoms. By themselves the bacteria were able to break down the phenolic acid, but not as quickly as the more complex systems.


The second vessel, which contained not only bacteria but aquatic plants, was able to neutralize the toxic acid more rapidly than the bacterial ecosystem. Following in this trend, the third system, to which was added molluscs, was even more effective. And the fourth, which incorporated fish, molluscs, plants, and bacteria, removed the phenolic acid at a quicker rate still. Notice that the model systems that recycled fastest were not simply the most complex assemblages but those that incorporated more recently evolved organisms into a base of ancient life-forms.

The appearance of dramatically new life-forms may cause an initial period of destabilization and discomfort as they rapidly spread. But for a newly evolved life-form to survive in the long run it must integrate itself into the global ecosystem of which it forms an increasingly large part. The global ecosystem is far bigger and more metastable than any single life-form, including the most disruptive.


This statement applies emphatically to technological humanity-a species now confronting with greater responsibility than ever before (out of sheer necessity) the consequences of its pioneer stage of rapid proliferation and settlement. If this is the case, then the present concerns for the environment need no more signify planetary pathology than they indicate robust global health. Indeed, they may be more lie the pains of some strange animal which, in sensing the culmination of its difficult pregnancy, takes conscious care to eat well and procure extra rest.