The Wrath of Gaia

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God’s Wrath has oft been explored. And for good reason—it’s mentioned at least a dozen times in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. God is known to be infinitely loving and omnibenevolent, but He’ll smite an entire city (or four) if He senses wickedness. But what’s interesting is that the word often used in the Bible for wrath (in the ancient Greek) is not a sudden rage [thumos] but a settled anger [orge], a word that derives from ‘to swell.’ This suggests that God’s wrath is a building but measured response to His assessment of irredeemable sin.

Wrath, in English, means 1) vengeful anger or 2) retributory punishment for a crime, divine chastisement. And what wrath is is important to explore in the context of today’s climate emergency.

This distinction, between thumos and orge, is quite relevant for Gaia’s Wrath, which is even more present and tangible—and knowable—than God’s Wrath.

Gaia is not in a rage. It is not even possible for Gaia to get mad. While a living entity, She is not conscious as we understand it. But Gaia’s measured response to our transgressions [orge] is real—and should frighten us far more than God’s, as Gaia’s is guaranteed. After all, Abraham almost convinced God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah (and the other two cities that seem to have been forgotten) if He could find just ten good people in Sodom. Too bad He couldn’t. But Gaia will not be swayed by the many good people trying to make society more sustainable. Only returning to living completely within Earth’s limits—i.e. following Gaia’s Law—will appease Her (and only if we do so in a timely fashion).

Hurricanes as Harbingers

The Christian religion spends a lot of time on sin. Not all religions organize themselves around this idea. The Gaian Way recognizes that there are those things that go against Earth’s laws and limits. Unlike the Biblical God, Gaia does not aim her wrath at those who have committed the transgressions. In fact, it is those that have transgressed the least that are often put most directly in harm’s way (power has its privileges). Instead, Gaia does not punish individuals, but instead collectively punishes all of humanity—and, as with the Flood, possibly much of the rest of the planet’s creatures as well.

Since Hurricane Dorian just decimated the Bahamas (a hurricane certainly made stronger by climate change)—and specifically against poorer parts of the island—let’s consider this as a case study. The poor of the Bahamas did not cause climate change, but in this instance, they bore the brunt of its effects (as will often be the case due to the wealthier taking the high ground and having the resources to build stronger structures). This makes it easier for us–the consumer class–to ignore Gaia’s wrath (as it feels random or more likely targeting the Other rather than us).

Hurricanes will continue to worsen due to climate change. More heat is entering the atmosphere and oceans, and that heat needs to be redistributed—hurricanes are one of Gaia’s mechanisms to efficiently and effectively do that. In fact, a hurricane releases 1.5 or 600 terawatts of energy—from half to 200 times the world’s electricity-generating capacity (depending if measuring wind or measuring rain and cloud formation). Gaia doesn’t do this to be cruel—though it might feel that way—but the system, even when unaltered by us, needs mechanisms to rebalance global energy distribution. And now with our transgressions triggering the absorption of huge amounts of new energy into the Gaian system, these rebalancing efforts will grow.

So Gaia’s Wrath, while more devastating than God’s, is more measured, less emotional, and more predictable—in its certainty even if unknowable in its exact timing or location. The question is how will we respond to it?

Two Possible Antiphons

If we’re wise, we will answer Gaia’s Wrath in ways that reduce future wrath—shifting toward a low consumption, sustainable societal pathway—and make us safer from the wrath that is now all but inevitable, such as by building human settlements to be more resilient and, in times of disaster, rebuilding in ways that don’t lead them to being destroyed again (or when that’s impossible choosing not to rebuild at all but converting those ‘sacrifice lands’ into wetlands or protected areas that help protect the next tier of development in.

The danger is that instead of taking a rational, scientifically-based, and humble approach like that, as people see more and more of a ‘raging’ planet (even if Gaia is not raging just rebalancing in a measured way), the more they’ll want to tame it. The more the proposals for geoengineering will sound wise rather than like abominations (or at best untried strategies that could cause far more suffering, especially to those not in control of the geoengineering processes). It will be essential to prevent interpretation of this wrath as an excuse to subjugate Gaia, whether through geoengineering, biotechnology, or some other hubristic strategy that suggests humans are smart and wise enough to actually effectively manage Gaia (when it was our hubris that triggered Gaia’s wrath in the first place).

We have put tremendous strain on Gaia—through our overall population, production, and consumption patterns, particularly over the past three hundred years. And by the very fact that there are now 7.8 billion of us, heading to 9.6 billion by 2050, it is now inevitable that Gaia’s systems will change and in a way that is not adapted to human life. This will manifest as Gaia’s Wrath. But how we respond to that wrath will define ourselves and our future.

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