The global scourge of the Covid pandemic has tended to place a new and slightly more sinister focus on the Gaia hypothesis, the belief that all living organisms form part of a great interconnect, and that Earth will always have the resilience to recover from the worst that mankind can inflict on her.
First postulated by the environmental scientist James Lovelock, and frequently rubbished by the mainstream scientific community, the premise is that Earth has an endless capacity to adapt and adjust and recover from human damage.
But, reassuring as that might sound, such ability to recover is not without cost, which is where the Covid devastation comes into play. While Gaia is not a malevolent force, if she suspects that the human race is on course to destroy the climatic equilibrium of the last thousand plus years, she will take steps to cut us down to size, if not to eliminate us altogether.
So that maybe Covid-19 is the first manifestation of Earth striking back – a warning that if we don’t put a brake on the greed and depredation, we just might not be around for very much longer.
Lovelock, who turned 100 last year, uses a homely analogy to describe what he thinks may be happening. Gaia, he says, is like an old lady who has to share her house with a growing and destructive group of teenagers. Her patience is running out, she is getting more and more angry at their behaviour, and if they don’t mend their ways soon, she will evict them.
Lovelock is what might be called a cheery pessimist, if that is not too much of a contradiction. And with a hundred years on the clock, the outcome won’t bother him personally one way or the other. He accepts that the apocalypse can’t be too far away; we have gone too far down the path of global destruction to change course now. The good news, as he says, is that when the dust settles, Gaia will begin its task of recreating the world again; the bad news is that there won’t be many of the human species left to enjoy it. Except, that is, for the last few breeding pairs of humanity who will live in the Arctic and who will start the long, slow cycle of repopulating the world.
Before that happens there will be the massive waves of human migration, as great swathes of the earth give way to desertification; as mid latitudes become unbearably hot for human habitation; as rising seas erode the cities and towns and coastal countries; as the earth becomes too parched to sustain crops or livestock. Then the more affluent will migrate northwards to Ireland and Britain and the Nordic countries where normal life can continue.
But that will only be for a while. By the second and third wave, only the Arctic regions – by now iceless but yet temperate enough for existence – will be habitable. We will have paid the full price for the reckless abandon we have shown in the short-term pursuit of creature comforts, with little or no concept of the tipping point where Earth will signal it can take no more.
The name Gaia comes from Greek mythology; she was the mother god who created order out of the primordial void but who, according to legend, was a personage not to be trifled with.
The same Greek legend has it that, displeased with the behaviour of her lover, the sky god Uranus, Gaia ordered that he be castrated and his genitals strewn across the oceans.
In other words, we have been warned.