Could The Earth Fight Back?

by stephenpalmersf

When I came up with the idea of Kray (as Memory Seed was called in 1988) I was much influenced by James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia. The wretched inhabitants of Earth’s last city fight encroaching greenery and the weather, while the rest of the planet has been rendered uninhabitable, covered by a poisonous, impenetrable mat of vegetation from which humanity has retreated. I loved this idea of the planet fighting back, and, at the time, wasn’t much concerned with the science of it all. (Later on I would be, which led to the themes and far-future plot of Urbis Morpheos.)

In 1988 Lovelock’s work was best called the Gaia Hypothesis. It was loathed in some quarters, lauded elsewhere, often misunderstood, then taken up by New Age ‘Green’ types who also misunderstood it, much to Lovelock’s annoyance. In a minor way I was one of those irritations, as, strictly speaking, the Earth couldn’t be personified to the extent of focusing on humanity’s last city as I portrayed in my novel. Now, however, it can be called Gaia Theory, as it’s much better understood and has made predictions later shown by scientific experiment to be true.

Back in 1988 though what interested me was the plants and the weather. I personified some of my own anger here: the rage of the wind and the rain, battering people who had ignored environmental warnings and were continuing to ignore them. The noophytes themselves were well aware of humanity’s ecocidal past, as they make clear to Arrahaquen in the electronic environment of Gwmru, and to Omvendyn in my upcoming collection Tales From The Spired Inn.

But could the planet change to the extent I visualised in Memory Seed? Well, one of the most often quoted consequences of climate change is an increase in extreme weather – so, yes, it could change that much. And an increase in carbon dioxide – paradoxically given our current rate of deforestation – means more atmospheric food, which would lead to more plants if the human population crashed. Another main theme I dealt with was the pollution of the environment with chemicals (for instance oestrogen mimics) which feminise male animals. That also could happen; it’s been offered as an explanation for the declining sperm count of men in industrialised countries, so quite possibly it’s happening now.

Gaia works by positive and negative feedback. Rock weathering for instance is a carbon reducing process, meaning that an increase in the surface area of rocks which can be weathered leads over millions of years to a global reduction in temperature (i.e. less of a greenhouse effect), which is in due course opposed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by volcanoes. There are dozens of such processes, all of them created and “maintained” by life, although of course life does this without realising it. An example of a positive feedback is colder global temperatures leading to more ice, which reflects away more of the sun’s energy, which makes things still colder… and so on. Snowball Earths created by such processes are thought to have been melted by the greenhouse effect brought about by volcanic gases – one such catastrophic event may even have kick-started the Cambrian Explosion.

So, my portrayal of the planet attacking the doomed city of Kray may have been fanciful, but perhaps not that fanciful.

spired inn v3