Friday 23 August 2019

Failure to tackle planetary issues may cost us dearly

Earthrise from the surface of the Moon as seen during the Apollo mission.
Earthrise from the surface of the Moon as seen during the Apollo mission.


The idiom "Can't see the wood for the trees" is generally taken to mean that someone can't see the big picture because he or she is focusing too closely on some individual detail.

Similarly, in the study of nature, one cannot understand the structure and function of a wood by studying an individual tree. True, the wood is a collection of trees but the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The wood cannot be understood by focusing on any of the individual trees that comprise it.

A tree is an individual organism and can be studied at that level but the concept of a wood raises matters to a new and different level requiring us to think differently.

In human terms, any of us can look at our self in the mirror and think of our self as a physical or spiritual individual. But, in the ascending hierarchy, each of us is also a member of a family, a community, a society, a nation, and so on. In the ascending order, each different level acquires new characteristics and qualities known collectively as 'emergent properties'.

In the descending hierarchy, each of us is a collection of body systems, organs, tissues, cells, cell organelles, genes, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles. Ultimately, everything is recycled star dust. In the descending order, each descending level loses the emergent properties of the level above.

The Gaia Hypothesis is an interesting idea. In Greek mythology, Gaia (say: guy-ah) is the ancestral mother of all life, the Mother Earth goddess. She represents, or is a personification of, nature, creation and the bounty of planet Earth. In modern neopaganism she is the spiritual embodiment of our planet.

The mythological name was revived in 1979 by James Lovelock in his provocative book 'Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth'. Lovelock's hypothesis proposed that, like the aforementioned wood, planet Earth is a discrete dynamic system that cannot be understood by focusing on any or all of the very many living and non-living elements that comprise it.

Scientific endeavour to understand our planet has led to scientists calling on political leaders to take action to address such worldwide issues as global warning, climate change, deforestation, desertification, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, pollution, etc.

To date, the responses to such calls have been limited, to put it mildly. The consequences of continuing to ignore warnings based on sound scientific evidence may cost humanity dearly.

Wexford People

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