Guide The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?

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So far, our experiment has been on a world where there are no humans. But that is not our world. Add our civilization into the mix and make a monetary calculation of what will be lost: all coastal cites are now perched far from the sea; the dust is so thick that jet engines clog in the stratosphere, and we are reduced to propeller plane travel; the changing weather patterns and the cold have wrecked any Farmers Almanac , and most agribusiness as well; large proportions of the formerly rich wheat and corn regions of the United States, Canada, northern Europe, and the ex-Soviet Union are changed, with some showing increasing harvest, but most yielding less.

And it is not just wheat that takes a hit: many of the rice-growing areas of China are either under ice or so near the glaciers with their high winds and dust that they are no longer productive. What would it cost to rebuild all coastal cities, to replant most crops in new places, to fight an inevitable famine and fight as well the border wars precipitated by the many millions of humans who are displaced by the economic ravages inflicted by the falling sea, displaced into entirely different countries?

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The cost would be in the trillions of dollars. And this is just an accounting of the human constructions lost. What is the monetary value of a species going extinct? Let us try to tally up what we have done beyond the monetary aspects. We can do this in two ways: the number of species going extinct, and the relative biomass of the planet, before and after.

Both are as yet difficult to put final numbers on, but our science does tell us that both will be significantly large. As we stare out at what we have wrought, we might wonder at the penalty for such death bestowed. What should such a killer receive as penance, when a million or more species, a significant portion of the total amount of life on Earth, are killed off as a result of some action that changed a world with planet-spanning rain forests to one of desert, ice, and grassy plains, and but a thread of the once luxurious, pole-to-pole forests?

What punishment is just for the perpetrator of a crime vastly more immense in scale? We can rejoice that this particular thought experiment is just that—a thought experiment. But in fact such global cooling events have been triggered in the past by deadly murderers. And cold is only one of their weapons. If the global assassins wanted to kill off an even larger percentage of life on Earth than is possible with glacial cold, the weapon of mass destruction of choice would be heat, or, more accurately, that now familiar phrase global warming.

Bogeymen in the closet can make for a good scare. The shiver of a slasher movie is a cheap thrill soon ended as the fictional killer is put to its deserved end, the lights go on, the movie-goers file out, and we go on with our lives.


But the reality is that there is a killer on the loose capable of planetary-scale catastrophe, a killer quite alive, an assassin that owes nothing to Hollywood or Stephen King. It has killed in the deep and near past and is poised to kill again in the near and distant future. This killer is devilishly sly, cleverer than any well-disguised and innocuous character thought up by the pulp mystery writers. It hides in plain sight. The killer is life itself. If left unchecked, it will hasten the ultimate death of all life on Earth.

Only human intelligence and engineering can delay this fate. In fact, the individuals making up each species are ruled by natural selection and live in ways maximizing their survivability, and the repeated killing off of many of them is definitely not in their interest. But, perhaps paradoxically, aggregates of species interacting with the physical environment as well as with other life, in the region on Earth that we term the biosphere, appear to have effects not selected for—lethal effects, in fact.

We humans have the odd distinction of being the only ones that either know or care, and it remains to be seen if we will stave off planetary extinction or hasten its onset. Right now we are rapidly transforming a world of moderate temperature one with ice caps and relatively low sea level to a heated world without ice caps and with high sea level.

Yet while we are the only organisms capable of extending the life of the biosphere, we are certainly not the only creatures capable of the opposite—reducing the lifespan of the Earth as a habitable world. The mass extinctions of the past were far more lethal than any war yet waged by humans, and they were not even primarily caused by complex life.

Rather, microbes were at their root. But higher life forms were accessories to this murder, in that it was higher life that allowed microbes to multiply to the point that they could begin their ruthless poisoning of air and sea.

The Medea Hypothesis: A response to the Gaia hypothesis -

What we must do is to defang the monster through direct intervention into the carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles, and by maintaining planetary temperature so that there are always ice caps in the high latitudes. Unfortunately, many. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?

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The Medea Hypothesis: A response to the Gaia hypothesis

Save For Later. This stands in stark contrast to James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis--the idea that life sustains habitable conditions on Earth. In answer to Gaia, which draws on the idea of the "good mother" who nurtures life, Ward invokes Medea, the mythical mother who killed her own children. Could life by its very nature threaten its own existence?

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  5. According to the Medea hypothesis, it does. Ward demonstrates that all but one of the mass extinctions that have struck Earth were caused by life itself. He looks at our planet's history in a new way, revealing an Earth that is witnessing an alarming decline of diversity and biomass--a decline brought on by life's own "biocidal" tendencies. And the Medea hypothesis applies not just to our planet--its dire prognosis extends to all potential life in the universe.

    Yet life on Earth doesn't have to be lethal.

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    Ward shows why, but warns that our time is running out. Breathtaking in scope, The Medea Hypothesis is certain to arouse fierce debate and radically transform our worldview. It serves as an urgent challenge to all of us to think in new ways if we hope to save ourselves from ourselves. Home The Medea Hypothesis. Add to Cart.

    Earth's mass extinction - Peter Ward

    In doing so, Ward sets out to debunk the widely accepted ideas forwarded by deep thinking environmentalist James Lovelock as wishful thinking and ultimately irresponsible. Having evolved from a series of complex and interlocking living organisms capable of regulating itself. Like any good scientist, he provides ample evidence to support his claims. Buried deep inside the fossil record are signs of a planet out of synch, which led to a series of environmental cataclysms.

    Ward argues that Earth, like Medea, is one messed up mother prone to destructive acts. Rather than a harmonious balance, he argues, the planet swings between boom- and -bust cycles with durations of relative calm arcing over extended periods of time.