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We are used to the adage, think globally and act locally. Gaian thinking is really this idea in the fullest sense of its meaning. It is thinking through policies of management of the earth as a whole and to look at all other problems as sub sets of this. It is a cybernetic approach to global village management where the problem is basically humans and culture, not nature. It is recognition that in our rape of mother earth, Gaia may dispose of us in the process of a planetary selfcorrecting homeostatic mechanism before we get to destroy Gaia.
As James Lovelock points out in ‘Ages of Gaia’, the central concept in the Gaia Hypothesis is homeostasis in which microbes, plants, soil organisms and aquatic life play an integrated role. They control the flow of carbon, nitrogen, water and other elements that go to make up life—with the sun turning the cycles at the homeostatically corrected temperature for life and by life. Life started taking control of the environment with the development of the double helical nucleotides and these genes have driven the experiment of life with the environment as its encompassing cloak. (2)
The key example worked out by Lovelock was thermostatic control of the earth’s surface temperature. He used the ‘Daisy World’ model as theoretical construct to demonstrate his theory. In simple outline Gaia Hypothesis attributes the creation of earth’s peculiar atmosphere to (A) the stratospheric Carbon Dioxide blanket. When thick temperatures rise; when thin it cools. The ocean acts as a sink for Carbon Dioxide along with the rocks. Trees and cyanobacteria also absorb the gas and generate moisture. The Carbon Dioxide blanket above the stratosphere also keeps the oceans from evaporating away.
The gene flow of information that we call life, to an evolving experimentation problem solving creation and adaptation to the environment, has an exponential history of development. It is Gaia’s own self-development leading from the origin of the universe as bare energy leading up to higher levels of awareness. The levels of Gaia may be represented in powers of 10 from 4.5 billion years ago to the present generation born 45 years ago. The boxes are different by x10 to the power of 2 years. In the final box we have the highest level of self awareness, a level that has the power to destroy Gaia—see the diagram opposite and the graph above it describing another exponential development, the human population explosion. We humans, though having evolved to an unprecedented level of selfawareness, have become a cancerous growth—a part of Gaia that is reproducing itself uncontrollably and fast killing its living host—Gaia.
- (B) For surface temperature to be around 13 degrees Celcius, the preferred average temperature for planetary life, it is necessary to have a correct mix of atmospheric gases. Air has the correct balance of 79% Nitrogen, 20% Oxygen and 0.003% Carbon Dioxide (all other planets have very high Carbon Dioxide and minimal Nitrogen and Oxygen). The Oxygen content comes from photosynthetic activity, the Nitrogen from decomposers (protists, fungi and bacteria). Oxygen forms ozone in the ionosphere and neutralizes ultraviolet radiation to protect life.
- (C) The luminosity of the earth is lower and controlled by forest and vegetation (micro/macroflora) on land and in the oceans. When darker the temperature cools and when light the temperature rises (the Albedo factor). (3)
It is the point of view of this teaching unit that Gaia protection is the fundamental starting point for all problem solving in the environment. Norman Myers points out in “Atlas of Future Worlds”, that protection of Gaia needs to be embedded in international law and all human behavior subjected to such a law (4). All other environmental and human problems pale by comparison. Accepting the axiom of the inviolability of Gaia would also help prioritize and suggest acceptable solutions to environmental problems, many of which are being sidetracked because of lack of agreement about what constitutes environmental moral culpability. The following unit then takes this as its a priori and seeks to involve students in the Gaia principle in any and every environmental problem that concerns them. Before developing the practicalities of such an undertaking, it seems necessary that we rethink our pedagogy to make sure that it is adequate to deal with the holistic mode of thinking required by the Gaia hypothesis, and rethinking John Dewey’s educational philosophy is our place to begin.
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The first significant relevance is Dewey’s own all encompassing metaphor that he carried to all his ideas about education i.e. the metaphor of life itself. Life is self renewing, self-adaptive, systemic and social; hence education must have these characteristics to be effective.
“The most notable distinction between living things and inanimate things is that the former maintain themselves by renewal.”(5) Education is such a process of renewal and transmission of resources that also includes ideas, skills and so forth for the purpose of continuing life in the environment. Education communicates habits (skills) in doing, thinking and feeling from generation to generation. The whole range of life’s experience is passed on to individuals that enlarges their private experience. The individual ‘goes out’ of the self to find points of contact with that wider experience, the life of the species. (6)
Education manipulates meanings that have been called for the by the need to interact and solve problems, those problems given by history, the present and the challenge of the future. The ability to respond is natural to us—not an extrinsic capacity to be forced on the unwilling. It is not an act of conditioning but a learning to see how ideas come together in a dynamic interplay to achieve some goal. The example Dewey gives to make his point is a baseball game. The game cannot be taught by memorizing rules or sequences of events. These may be used in the process of learning the game, but nothing is learned until the idea of the game is learned. Each of the parts have to come together so that it all makes sense. The test is whether the information works for the individual and they can be creatively used. When this is achieved the individual can demonstrate it and see how all the parts of the game are systemically interconnected to achieve the goal of winning and so forth. In this unit, problems will be thought through in such a ‘feed back’ loop.(6)
At the heart of education is the idea of growth and this is equally characteristic of life as it moves from inception to death. Dewey’s key ideas in this respect are ‘reorganizing, reconstructing and transformation’.
Education by contrast is not static and not extrinsic. It is about taking the past into the future with thought, inventiveness and initiative.(7) Gaia problem solving challenges us all to break out of the static ‘business as usual’ ways of thinking.
The relevance to Gaian thought is that education must be taken out of its abstract and past orientation so as to apply past knowledge to the present and future. We need to move out of the Newtonian universe and move into the contemporary world of nonlinear physics, holistic math, creative chaos and global cultural dialogue. Education must transcend meeting the interests of the status quo, class (business) privilege, or nationalist self interest, for the purposes of all life, all of humanity, and for responding creatively to the environment. (8)
As Gaia is sacred and has its own ends and meanings, so also education provides its own interests, its own intrinsic ends. What is intrinsic, however, is open ended, flexible, responsive, a shared activity, personal and problem solving. It is intelligent and springs from the students own natural intelligence. It is its own discipline.
Dewey does not equate education with mere biological life but with reflective thought within the biological process of living in the environment. The essence of education is thinking within experience. Intelligence is not limited to humans. Humans are more adapted to finding a reflective solution to an environmental problem. Reflective experience or intelligent thought may be summarized as follows and is clearly a generalized scientific way of thinking that can be applied to any kind of experience of any kind.
Methodology in teaching is then no more nor less than the method of intelligent thinking. Students cannot learn this unless they participate in an event that requires active reflection. It cannot be isolated from the world but part and parcel of an action that becomes part of a growing world of experience. Books bring that accumulation of global experience to the student but it has to become a direct experience to become meaningful. The task of the teacher is to help mediate ‘universal’ and private experience.
- 1. perplexity, doubt, confusion in a situation (a problem/question)
- 2. a tentative interpretation (hypothesis, projected answer)
- 3. a careful detailed survey or examination of the experience (observations to clarify the problem)
- 4. hypothesis (rational explanation) stated with independent variables (causes) and dependent variables (effects)
- 5. test the explanation by effecting a cause to produce an effect or in other words, live the thought within an experience to see if it gives integrity or coherence to the event. (9)
In Dewey’s major opus ‘Democracy and Education’, he elaborates the above in terms of the various disciplines—geography, history, humanities, science and so forth (10). He also apples it to the social spirit, the essence of morality. In the following teaching unit, we will focus more of the implication of his educational theory to ethics and problem solving, particularly as they relate to environmental crises of Gaian proportions. The relevance of Dewey’s pedagogy above will be highlighted too.
To simplify the above, we may use the life-skills problem solving schema described below that all teachers in New Haven Public Schools are expected to use, where applicable, across all academic disciplines. What follows is a practical application of this applied to the population crisis.
- 1. Moral judgments, as science, deals with time and space since both concern antecedents and consequences.
- 2. In both science and morality, universals are abstracted out of particular events and actual contexts. Both concern universal ‘laws’ that only mean anything as predicators in actual situations.
- 3. Science and morality both concern judgments on experiences that require reflection and then action to test theoretical understandings. These are tested as events involving some action, the results of which are used to confirm or deny the validity of the prior reflections and judgments.
- 4. Science demands that reason be subjected to the hard knocks of experience. Similarly morality must justify itself in terms of actual experienced problems. Neither can hide behind appeals to transcendence independent of experience if they are to claim to be true.
- 5. Both science and morality involve feeling awareness, rational cognition and action to test validity of the relationship between feeling and thought. Feeling awareness in both science and morality is attention to some aspect of the immediacy of experience that calls forth sentient interest, goals and vision of possibilities (in morality, love is an example of this). Cognition consists of logical connections in experience based on cause and effect. Objective thought in morality and science comes from acting out this reasoning within the environment (in morality, moral principles are reasoning within an experience such as love). If the consequences of action meet those expected by reason and those desired by the original feeling awareness (that drew one’s attention to this aspect of the environment in the first place) then both science and morality have reasonable grounds for objectivity.
- 6. Since methodology of making scientific and moral judgments are analogous, then the use of the following scientific or intelligent method of making social policies to solve problems in the environment are legitimated.
(I) Defining the Problem
If the temperature goes up there is flooding and increased rate of desertification, if the temperature goes down, there is a movement towards a glacial age. In either case, there is more land lost to farming.
- a. Population is the root cause of pollution and since population increases exponentially so pollution is increasing exponentially and so necessarily uncontrollably.
- b. Pollution of air, water and soil means loss of available resources for the expanding population.
- c. Population drives consumption that depletes resources and prevents a balanced or sustainable economy with the environment. It drives the need for synthetics and the need for garbage disposal that further pollutes and cuts back on available land and resources.
- d. Population increase drives the need to use mass farming techniques such as mono-genetic crops and pesticides that only increases productivity of crop production on the short term. It increases the risk of loss of protection from pests in the future and toxicity to life in general. In the process further environmental damage threatens the existing level of human population.
- e. Population increase means reduction of forests to provide fuel and more cultivated land, more houses and recreational space etc. Loss of forests threatens global homeostatic control of global temperature.
- f. Increase in population means increased dependence upon oil and other imported goods that decreases national security and so increases military expenditure that reduces resources available for feeding the population etc.
- g. Increase in population ultimately threatens all environmental treaties because the struggle for survival will justify governments to abandon them, that then in turn may lead to qualitative leaps in environmental destruction, and as such possibly lead to death of Gaia or devastating loss of human life to levels below existing population.
- a) Give tax and social benefits as incentives to 2 children families and penalties for exceeding this number.
- b) Require all synthetics to be either biodegradable or able to be recycled on a sustainable basis.
- c) Agribusiness must justify all management and farming policies based upon long term sustainable policies, organic solutions to pest and preservation of genetic diversity in the environment.
- d) Enforcement of ‘greenbelts’ around all forest and woodlands. Cutting of trees must not threaten a complex ecosystem in which they live.
- e) Reduce dependence upon foreign imports to reduce military expenditure. Reduce foreign debt by limiting profits that can be made on loans.
- f) Support an international economic order that requires foreign trade to be based upon the best use of natural resources consistent with local climate or distinctive biome needs.
- g) Give priority to all plans that address issues solving systemic problems.
(iii) Determine what criteria would be used to deem plans/solutions as good/bad or better/worse. (controlling variables).
The task is now to anticipate consequences of the hypothetical solutions that have been imagined. In this case we are interested in:
- 1) outcomes for the government, state or wider community material or nonmaterial.
- 2) outcomes for those immediately involved.
- 3) outcomes for extended family and others directly affected.
- 4) anticipated outcomes based upon research into comparable situations, for example China.
- 5) anticipate costs to different sectors of the economy and ways to deal with this.
(iv) Procedure/Materials/Presentation of Data.
Choose the best hypothetical plan and fully write out how it would be implemented with list of resources and costs incurred. Plan data tables, graphs and so forth to determine how outcomes can be measured and presented.
Recommend implementing the plan that appears to offer the best outcomes. Point out limitations and expected arrears for refinement.
Ecology, Biodiversity and the Environment
Students will be working on an ecology project that will consist of two parts. The first will integrate the study of four organisms of your choice with the study of four different biomes. In the second, you will choose and research a particular environmental problem, examine it in terms of the Gaia hypothesis and propose a plan for solving the problem. The project will be written up as a mini-booklet using an analytical scoring rubric as guide for self-grading purposes. You will present your environmental problem and proposed solution to the whole class using a science fair type of presentation board. Deadlines for handing in different parts of the project will need to be met to receive full credit. Each week will include a video, a lecture, reading in the library, writing and drawing in class along with a problem solving test and vocabulary/concept quiz on Fridays. The outline of the project will correspond to the outline of the course.
1. Introduction to Ecology
2. Organism A and the ocean biome
3. Organism B and the wetland biome
4. Organism C and the desert or grassland biome
5. Organism D and the forest (taiga, deciduous, tropical) biome
To grade the written section of part l, the first of the analytical scoring rubrics (see below) will be used. The second analytical scoring rubric (also below) will be used. A supplementary folder will be used for keeping homework, quizzes and tests in. A grade point sheet will be kept stapled into the folder for recording and calculating grades or quality of work. In both section I and II of your project, it is important that organisms and a problem are chosen that are personally appealing.
- 1. The Gaia Hypothesis: A way to solve the environmental problem . . . . . . .(name your problem you are interested in solving)
- 2. Materials used in the class presentation.
To assist students in part II, four problems in the environment have been worked out in outline (see below). These outlines are not intended to be comprehensive. They are merely a demonstration.of the feasibility of the principles discussed in this teaching unit. In the fourth column of the outlines a resource is suggested to assist students develop a detailed execution of a plan once the key issue has been identified in terms of a Gaia perspective. These outlines can be used as individual lesson plans for brainstorming with a whole class on how to solve a particular problem in the environment. It will greatly help if the following, “When you have a problem” sheet is given to all students in the class.
- 1. What kind of chapter headings would you expect to find in a book entitled: ‘Human Ecology’?
- 2. When discussing birth control, a student says that every married couple has a right to as many children as they want. Why not?
- 3. How could the rain forests be preserved and at the same time, cut down its trees?
- 4. List some reasons why more is not done to save our natural environment.
- 5. If the human species does not limit its population growth, list some things that will.
- 6. An angry person says that government has no right to tell farmers how to farm. Give reasons why people might think government should get involved.
- 7. Which kind of scientists would be best qualified to write a book entitled, ‘Death of Planet Earth’?
- 8. What sort of legal information do you need to know before you go hunting or fishing?
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____The book is mostly very readable and is essential for understanding one of the key and powertul concepts in contemporary ecology and environmental studies.
Myers, Norman The Gaia Atlas of Future Worlds Doubleday Press, NY 1990
____To understand why the Gaia concept is so powerful and to realize its fullest implications, there is no book that I know that so clearly and concisely fills in the picture. You may find yourself profoundly changed by reading it.
Myers, Norman, Ed. An Atlas of Planet Management Doubleday, NY 1993
____If you want a broad overview of the key environment issues troubling our planet and you want detailed summaries of data and solutions that are currently being attempted or seriously proposed, there is surely no better book currently on the market. From this unit’s point of view it is invaluable as well because it takes a Gaian point of view.
Dewey, John Democracy and Education NY, Macmillan 1916
____One of the most influential books in education ever to have been written in the USA, still readable and as relevant as it was eighty years ago and as this unit suggests, peculiarly modern if his concept of the environment is given its contemporary meaning and significance.
Wargo, John Our Children’s Toxic Legacy New Haven, Yale 1996
____The value of this book is that it gives an exampie of the complexity of issues when we try to see them holistically and try to translate them to workable solutions. It provides many practical ideas with no starry eyed simplicity as to their workability in the real world of politics and competing values. In my judgment it argues for the importance of taking the Gaia Hypothesis as the point of view for making social policy.
____For a comprehensive overview, simply written, this makes an excellent resource textbook.
Contents of 1997 Volume VII | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute