The Global Brain is Watching.
(This is text from video. Watch the video.)
The live video feed from the fractured oil pipe a mile beneath the surface is allowing anyone with Internet access (currently more than 1.7 billion of us) to watch the plume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. And, moreover, to watch live the various attempts to plug the leak. It has become, in the words of Associated Press, “an Internet sensation.” Thank you Obama for insisting that BP didn’t cut the video feed.
When I wrote The Global Brain, 30 years ago, I (and just about everyone else in the field) was imagining the embryonic Internet in terms of text and data processing. None of us foresaw the rich audio-visual medium it would become. Or that we, the neurons of the global brain, would be able to watch live as global catastrophes such as this unfold. Our eyes have become the eyes of Gaia, collectively observing our unfolding collective destiny.
And what, from a Gaian perspective, is this oil that threatens, not just the fishing business in Louisiana, but, far more importantly, the coral reefs and sea floor life that lie at the base of the ocean food chain?
Oil is but highly concentrated life. Dead forests from hundreds of millions of years ago, compressed by immense geological pressures into this hydrocarbon rich liquid that we prize so much for all the energy it contains. As Tom Hartmann points out in his book Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, it is, in the final analysis, energy captured by plants way back in the past.
To the energy of the trapped sunlight was then added the energy of the immense compression it underwent beneath the weight of continents. That compression changed the chemical nature of the vegetable remains. The hydrocarbons we prize so much are seldom found in nature. It took unimaginable pressure to force the chains of carbon atoms to be found throughout life on Earth into rings of carbon atoms. (Today we have taken this a step further, using intense pressures in the laboratory to create spheres of carbon atoms – so-called Buckyballs.)
These hydrocarbon rings don’t fit well with life back on the surface of Gaia. Being immiscible with water, they clog up the metabolic processes of most lifeforms. To us, liberated oil is pollution.
A few bacteria do like this dense nutrient-rich material. They live on the sea floor happily gobbling the trickle of oil that oozes through numerous cracks in the ocean bed, breaking down the carbon rings into more hospitable molecules. But they never evolved to cope with hundreds of thousands of barrels a day pouring out of a single vent.
Where will it end? No one knows. Eventually, microbes on the ocean floor will slowly break down the carbon rings, feeding them back into the food chain hundreds of million years after they were first formed. And life will, in time, cope with the dispersants that have been added to the mix (themselves a product of the oil industry.) In the long term, Gaia shows a remarkable resilience.
Meanwhile, the world watches with baited-breath, half mesmerized, half devastated – and perhaps just a tiny part glad that it may take such a catastrophe to bring this crazy bunch of monkeys to their senses.