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   On Gaia
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Oct 2013

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Quite at a tangent to the dominant discourse on reducing pollution load on the environment to make it hospitable for life-forms at the United Nations conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in 1972, James Lovelock had proposed Gaia Hypothesis the same year wherein he had argued that the planet was regulated by and for the life forms occurring on the planet. In simple terms it meant that the planet has a 'consciousness'.

Four decades later, Toby Tyrrell, a professor of Earth System Science at the University of Southampton puts the hypothesis through some serious tests. For Tyrrell it is hard to accept Lovelock's assertion that the planet adjusts itself to the needs of the living organisms. Citing the manner in which the magnetic termites engineer its mounds to minimise exposure to sunlight, the author contends that organisms instead adapt to the environment. Else, the planet would have moderated the negative impact of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.

As it is now understood, the Earth's atmosphere is not a biological construct but is determined mainly by geological forces and astronomical processes. What begs an answer is the compelling question: why despite modifications of the Earth over the geological timescale the planet has continued to remain hospitable to living species? The interplay of biotic and abiotic systems is more complex than what has been understood thus far. By raising fundamental questions on Gaia hypothesis, Tyrrell seeks to develop a deeper understanding on how our environment works and how far it can be negotiated against human-induced changes during the coming decades.

One third of this well argued book consists of end notes, many of which are as readable as the main text. By questioning the arguments for and against the Gaia hypothesis, Tyrrell has done a great service to enriching the ongoing discourse on making our planet hospitable for all life forms, now and in the future. The author, however, draws a thoughtful but challenging conclusion: ‘Ensuring that the global environment remains propitious for life is up to us, and there is no Gaian safety net to come to the rescue if we mismanage it'.

On Gaia
by Toby Tyrrel
Princeton University Press, Princeton
Extent: 311, Price: $35

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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