Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction

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pp. ix-xxiv

Let us begin with a thought experiment. Envision the vast, life-filled rain forest now occupying the Amazon Basin of modern day Brazil. The wide, brown river slowly but inexorably flows eastward, carrying within its fluvial grasp unnumbered tons of mud, silt, sand, and in some places even gravel, originating either in the foothills of the rapidly eroding Andes Mountains far to the west, or from the upper reaches and banks of the river itself...

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1. Darwinian Life

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pp. 1-13

In the summer of 2007 I entered into a new experience: teaching the science of evolution to entering university students. Each of the nineteen students in my class, none older than eighteen years of age, started his or her first university class with some mixture of optimism and trepidation. Most, it turned out, wanted to be scientists...

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2. What Is Evolutionary “Success”?

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pp. 14-23

The Pacific Northwest is moisture-shrouded much of the year; there are perhaps more different names for rain here than anywhere else in the world. Along the coastlines and islands fringing this region the rain seems a constant, with rain clouds either hanging above or coming right down to sea level, immersing life within the mist-bearing clouds themselves. Here and there, however, a few parcels of drier country exist, due to fortuitous rain shadows from the many overlooking mountains...

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3. Two Hypotheses about the Nature of Life on Earth

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pp. 24-54

In late August 2007 the Northern Hemisphere was witness to a spectacular lunar eclipse. It is rare that so large and so populated an area finds itself under the path of totality, but this one did. Near its West Coast totality (the eclipse reached totality in the very early morning hours even on the West Coast of North America), an actor and retired lawyer named Paul Taylor set fire to a four-story-tall wooden man standing serenely on a Nevadan desert at a place called Black Rock...

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4. Medean Feedbacks and Global Processes

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pp. 55-71

One of the fundamental findings of Earth system science has been the discovery of numerous “feedback” systems—where a given environmental change cycles through various systems and ultimately produces further change. James Lovelock noted these early in the history of the Gaia hypothesis; one of the predictions of the various Gaia hypotheses is that biological feedbacks—in which life plays an important part in the overall system and its effects—should be dominantly “negative."...

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5. Medean Events in the History of Life

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pp. 72-90

This chapter presents a list of events that, combined, provide abundant evidence that effectively refutes the Gaia hypothesis. This evidence does not “prove” the Medean hypothesis; proof is difficult to nigh impossible in science. But as it will be the last one standing, the evidence presented should certainly strengthen its acceptance. First I describe a series of episodes from Earth history...

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6. Humans as Medeans

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pp. 91-97

One has only to be an aficionado of futuristic cinema to get a sense of how really BAD we humans are. Th e entire post-apocalyptic genre—the high-water mark of Blade Runner, such oldies as Soylent Green, THX 1138, the Mad Max epics, A Boy and His Dog, the Planet of the Apes old and new—points to a future that really looks not only dreadful, but dead, in most cases...

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7. Biomass through Time as a Test

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pp. 98-113

The Medea hypothesis supports the view that life decreases the prospects for more life. Therefore it can be shown that biomass will eventually decrease through time and in fact is doing so now, as we will see in this chapter. Here we will look at two different ways of judging planetary biotic “success”—through diversity and biomass through time. We will begin with biodiversity...

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8. Predicted Future Trends of Biomass

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pp. 114-125

As we have seen, biomass seems to be highly dependent on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global temperature. Many things affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but since the evolution of plants, biotic weathering has become one of the most important. As the Sun continues to warm through time, it will cause a global warming that translates into increased weathering rates...

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9. Summation

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pp. 126-127

Let us sum up—in the shortest chapter of all. Three hypotheses have been presented. The first, the Gaia hypothesis (Optimizing), promotes the idea that life makes conditions better for itself. Th e second Gaia hypothesis (Self-regulating or Homeostatic) posits that life maintains conditions that, if not optimal, certainly stay within habitable bounds. Third, the Medea hypothesis suggests quite the opposite— that life, and future life, limits itself in any number of ways...

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10. Environmental Implications and Courses of Action

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pp. 128-140

This was the hardest chapter to write. It is far from my comfort level (science), for it called for philosophy and meditation on the future, and I therefore beg the reader to forgive my undoubted inelegance here, for philosophy and meditation are in short supply in my makeup. I will try a short summary of the main point: the implication of viewing life as Medean rather than Gaian requires a paradigm shift in our worldview...

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11. What Must Be Done

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pp. 141-156

We are in a box. Ultimately it is a lethal box, a gas chamber or fryer, depending how things work out. If we as a species are to survive, we will have to do a Houdini act. In this chapter I will suggest a series of engineering feats that will have to be accomplished...

References

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pp. 157-172

Index

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pp. 173-180