A slowdown of economy must lead to de-globalization as the answer to unrestricted acceleration that has over exploited natural resources at the cost of increasing inequality.Covid-19 has made the whole situation disruptive, and the near future perplexing. It only shows that despite rapid strides in medicine and artificial intelligence the world is not yet ready to deal with outbreaks of diseases that may shock us in future, as the natural habitats continue to be shortened to bridge the distance between the pathogen and the victim. It has long been argued that changing climate will increase the number of diseases passed from animals to humans, as modern society has not left any opportunity in creating conditions that allow such epidemics to flourish with impunity. That Covid-19 like pandemics will recur with increasing frequency is a foregone conclusion.
At this point when humanity looks scared and confused like a colony of red ants exposed when the garden slab gets lifted without a forewarning, the uneasy question that begs a compelling answer is whether or not Covid-19 represents some sort of a catastrophic tipping point? While the origin of the pandemic may remain shrouded in conspiracy theories, there are good reasons to prepare for change, and ensure that humans survive as a species by reconsidering their relationship with nature. ‘On a battlefield when the odd against winning is seen as insuperable, a well-planned retreat is the best option,’ asserts James Lovelock. With countries under forced lockdown, a slowdown of economy must lead to de-globalization as the answer to unrestricted acceleration that has over exploited natural resources at the cost of increasing inequality.
An award-winning inventor and an independent scientist for over half a century, Lovelock has made it clear through the Gaia hypothesis (now accepted as a scientific theory) that the planet is not an inert identity. Developed in collaboration with microbiologist Lynn Margulis, the theory propounds that all organic and inorganic components on the planet are part of one self-regulating system, meaning thereby that if the delicate balance that makes this planet habitable is not maintained than the Earth system (Gaia) will act on its own to bring some semblance to the prevailing disorder. Covid-19 has done precisely that, pulling shutters on most human activities such that nature gets to work on its own revival and rejuvenation.
At an age when human mind stops thinking, Lovelock is brimming with ideas to make others think. Now at 101, he has come out with some outrageous but thoughtful ideas on the future of mankind, and among many of his books, A Rough Ride to the Future captures the present predicament like none other. Though he proclaims himself to be an optimist amidst the rapidly changing global conditions, Lovelock has moved beyond the anthropocene, defined as human influence on the planet, into an emerging epoch he calls the novacene, wherein artificial intelligence will rule the world because a time will come when the present oxygen-rich world would cease to exist. But Gaia, the Earth system, will always remain habitable to whatever life form the evolutionary forces toss around.
The free ranging maverick that he is, Lovelock postulates more heat resistant forms of life to evolve if the planet continues to get warmer. In that case, an electronic life form based on silicon semiconductors, evolved through endosymbiosis, may be the next form of life on earth. This may sound futuristic fantasy but the hypothesis is based on the premise that our present wet carbon-based form of life may find this planet utterly inhospitable in the event of continuous enrichment of carbon dioxide into atmosphere. An electronic life form will be far less temperature-limited than humans, contends Lovelock.
In his lifetime of independent research, Lovelock has raised fresh insights from the practice of science to the future of mankind on account of accelerated evolution. ‘If life on our planet is able to change the climate, it can as well respond to it.’ Seemingly unplanned, Covid-19 has not only enforced such a response but has added to the existing confusion too. Lovelock chides the mistaken idea of scientists and administrators who think that without stabilizing the environment the spurt in such pandemics can be checked. Instead, the idea should be to strengthen our defenses. Like the nests of bees and ants, the task should be to create self-regulating and self-sustaining cities to house humans. Sounds logical, because when we are in a hot desert we try to keep things cool for ourselves without bothering to make the desert a cool place.
A Rough Ride to the Future
by James Lovelock
Allen Lane, UK
Extent: 184, Price: £16.99
Commissioned by the Hindu BusinessLine
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)