One of the most impactful and fascinating insights about the relationship of humans to the Earth from which we have evolved, came from James Lovelock, author of the Gaia Hypothesis – that the Earth herself is a living system.
Lovelock contends that humans are not mere banes on the Earth – but have been evolved as her “reflective organs”. I have taken that conjecture one step further and proposed that cities are Gaia’s Reflective Organs, and humans are the cells in those organs, while our organizations are like organelles. Furthermore, with 100’s of cities populating the Earth, these organs are networking themselves into a Reflective Organ System for Gaia.
As an evolutionary phenomenon, the living systems that are cities are at a very young stage in their evolutionary lifecycle. We have invested in energy management systems – aka economies – that are based on competition for Earth’s resources and competition between ourselves. The economic model that has driven our species in the last two hundred years has been capitalism – with its most recent variation in the form of neo-liberalism. This model is blind to the generative and regenerative capacities of the planet to support this form of energy flow. It has been basically overspending the bank of planetary resources and depleting Earth’s capacity to replace renewable energy sources in a sustainable way. Thus, we are endangering the very wellbeing and resilience that has enabled human development until now.
We are essentially undermining our capacity – and responsibility – to be Gaia’s Reflective Organs.
Luckily for us, Gaia has evolved ways for natural systems to self-correct when they become unbalanced with the eco-systems they inhabit. We can look at thousands of examples from natural history where a species has come to dominate an ecosystem in an unhealthy, unbalanced way (like rabbits, birds, deer, fish, etc.), the eventual outcome is a correction by the very system itself. The species depletes its energy supply and either dies off or collapses its population down to a manageable level in relationship to the energy source and ecological environment.
Humans have had the temerity to believe we could use our technologies to circumvent this natural process and circumvent the corrections to our disrespectful consumption patterns.
However we are now able to name the corrections that Earth’s natural systems are visiting upon us: climate change (which we have been denying for decades); zoonotic diseases (the latest of which has shut down the world’s economy with the coronavirus pandemic; and cultural dissension (which is a ancestral trauma that denies the bio-psycho- cultural-systems interconnection of the human species across all the ecoregions of the planet it has inhabited).
If we are going to right-size our cities, we must come face to face with Gaia’s design intention that we act as her Reflective Organs. We must go back to first principles and discover that our cities are fractal systems that have emerged from the evolutionary unfolding from individuals to collectives to cities to planet. Humans and our systems at all scales are fractal patterns of Gaia’s life patterns. She has a deep sense of what she has created us for. And enormous patience for us to wake up and discover how we must learn to cooperate with her so that we can cooperate and collaborate with each other at all human scales.
This implies that right-sizing cities must enable the living of the Master Code of Care – to learn to live every day with care for Self, care for Others, care for our Places/Cities (including eco-regions) and care for the Planet.
I suspect that the rightsizing of cities will reveal that there is a “sacred” or universal relationship between and amongst these fractal scales of Self: Others: Place(s) : Planet. When we discover how to translate that into energetic eco-footprints – we will also discover how to calibrate the energetics of caring that sustain and renew us.
Lovelock, J. (2009).
Patten, T. (2018). A New Republic of the Heart. North American Books.
Raworth, K., (2018)
Rees, W. E. P. D., & Wackernagel, M. (1994). Ecological Footprints and Appropriated Carrying Capacity: Measuring the Natural Capital Requirements of the Human Economy. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Taylor, G. (2008). Evolution’s Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation of our World. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.