The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive? (Science Essentials)

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9780691130750: The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive? (Science Essentials)


In The Medea Hypothesis, renowned paleontologist Peter Ward proposes a revolutionary and provocative vision of life's relationship with the Earth's biosphere--one that has frightening implications for our future, yet also offers hope. Using the latest discoveries from the geological record, he argues that life might be its own worst enemy. This stands in stark contrast to James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis--the idea that life sustains habitable conditions on Earth. In answer to Gaia, which draws on the idea of the "good mother" who nurtures life, Ward invokes Medea, the mythical mother who killed her own children. Could life by its very nature threaten its own existence?


According to the Medea hypothesis, it does. Ward demonstrates that all but one of the mass extinctions that have struck Earth were caused by life itself. He looks at our planet's history in a new way, revealing an Earth that is witnessing an alarming decline of diversity and biomass--a decline brought on by life's own "biocidal" tendencies. And the Medea hypothesis applies not just to our planet--its dire prognosis extends to all potential life in the universe. Yet life on Earth doesn't have to be lethal. Ward shows why, but warns that our time is running out.


Breathtaking in scope, The Medea Hypothesis is certain to arouse fierce debate and radically transform our worldview. It serves as an urgent challenge to all of us to think in new ways if we hope to save ourselves from ourselves.


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From the Inside Flap:


"A provocative look at the history of our living planet. Ward offers a distinct perspective and argues strongly that the only intelligent choice is to manage ourselves and the environment. The Medea Hypothesis will cause anyone who cares about the environment to think differently."--Thomas E. Lovejoy, president of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment


"This book casts the environmental debate in a completely new and important light. Ward demolishes the comfortable illusion that nature will take care of us if we just let it. To survive in the long term, the Earth needs a management team--we humans have to take up the job."--Chris McKay, NASA Ames Research Center


"The Medea Hypothesis is provocative, extremely well-written, and very convincing."--Simon A. Levin, Princeton University


"For those comforted by the notion of a benevolent Gaia working to sustain life on the planet, Ward's Medea is a nightmare, one that has recurred many times in Earth's history and is coming again soon, unless we take action to combat the self-annihilating tendency of the biosphere."--Lee R. Kump, coauthor of Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming


"Serious and well written, The Medea Hypothesis is sure to generate controversy among the experts. I read it over a weekend and could hardly put it aside until I finished it."--Francisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine


"This is an important and significant contribution to the fields of geobiology and astrobiology because it offers a startling new interpretation of the nature of Darwinian evolution. Ward's conclusion is both troubling and provocative: life may be its own worst enemy. Like James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, Ward's Medea hypothesis is likely to be debated for the next thirty years."--Joseph L. Kirschvink, California Institute of Technology


"A provocative rethinking of the coevolution of life and its environment. Peter Ward mounts a sustained critique of optimizing/homeostatic Gaia, providing a lucid set of examples of significant positive feedbacks arising from life. This book will have a strong heuristic impact on future research."--David Schwartzman, author of Life, Temperature, and the Earth


About the Author:

Peter Ward's many books include the highly acclaimed "Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe" and "Under a Green Sky" (Collins). He is professor of biology and Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, and an astrobiologist with NASA.

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