Monday, January 12, 2009

The Medea Hypothesis

In yesterday’s The Boston Globe, writer Drake Bennett discusses the theory of paleontologist Peter Ward’s latest book: The Medea Hypothesis. The author posits the Medea hypothesis as the antithesis of the Gaia hypothesis (man as unnatural blight on the “hospitality” of Mother Earth) under which the last 30 years of environmentalism has flourished. That is to say, nature itself, is an anathema to life.

I found the article quite interesting.

“Ward is open to the criticism that he’s taken things too far; what’s important, he believes, is weaning people for the idea that the earth works better without us. Even if Medea is an incomplete framework for viewing the natural world, it introduces a hardheadedness into environmental debates often driven by an unexamined idealism about Mother Nature.”
So far, I’m with the guy. But in the very next sentence, the article reveals a startling leap:

“Ward himself believes that the only help for the planet over the long run is management by human beings – whether that means actively adjusting the chemical composition of the atmosphere or using giant satellites to modify the amount of sunlight that reach us. As Ward sees it, the planet doesn’t need our help destroying itself. It will do that automatically. It needs us to save it.” [emphasis added]
And later:

“Faced with a planet where life is almost guaranteed to wipe itself out – and take us with it – he is urging us to be active, and occasionally intrusive, guardians.”
I’m completely in the camp that technological solutions are essential to solving problems which arise from by-products of civilization – localized problems. But other than suggesting that the nature tends toward the destruction of life, rather than providing its sustenance, Ward is pedaling the same one-size-fits-all crud as the Gaians: global environmental policy is the only way to sustain life on earth.

While I welcome the questioning of the wisdom of Gaia, I do not support the globalization of the care and keeping of the Earth. I suppose then, I agree with “others” reported in the article who describe the Medea hypothesis “as simply Gaia’s dark twin, a model undermined by the same inclination to see one tendency as the whole story”.

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