Gaia is often called Mother Earth. But if Gaia is a mother, who are Gaia's children?
Individual Plants and Animals as Gaia's Children
It is sometimes asserted that each individual organism is a child of Gaia. Taken literally, this interpretation is equivalent to asserting that the cells in a human body are the children of the body. While literal nonsense, the metaphor of earth as our personal mother is a powerful Gaian perspective that has benefits and drawbacks. It can compel us to love Gaia and value her needs in the same way we love our human mother and consider her needs. It can also cause us to shift responsibility up to a benevolent, all-powerful parent that we trust to clean up any and all messes we make.
Individual Organisms as Holonic Children of Gaia
Imagining Gaia as a holonic parent of her child-holon organims, may allow us to avoid the pitfalls of shifting responsibility up to a benevolent all-powerful parent. In a holarchy, parent holons do care for their child holons. This relationship calls forth gratitude from us as we consider that Gaia provides all of our food, and most of our water, air and, even, shelter. But the relationship is not unidirectional. A parent holon is only a componsite being, constructed from her child holons. In order to care for its children, a parent holon must extract contributions from them. Viewed holonically, it becomes our duty to contribute to Gaia. We are not only called to not damage her. This is the call of environmentalism. The Call from the point of view of holonic Gaianism goes further; we are called to contribute in a way that is unique to our skills and abilities. Think about your unique skills and abilities and consider how you could use them to contribute to Gaia.
Species as Gaia's Children
Between organisms and Gaia are several holonic layers. One of the most significant is the species layer. Species are provided to by Gaia with not only air, water, food and shelter but also with niches in which to thrive. In return, they provide many ecological services to Gaia. As a species, humanity must earn its holonic keep by contributing to Gaia. Some ways that humanity can contribute to Gaia, that no other species currently can, are:
- by diverting killer asteroids from colliding with Earth,
- by helping Gaia to give birth to a family of living worlds (see below)
Living Worlds as Gaia's Children
Main article: Ecopoeisis
The metaphor of lower level holons as children breaks down when considered deeply. This break down does not invalidate the usefulness of the metaphor in helping us to live as contributors to Gaia. But it does demonstrate that, if Gaia is to have children, holons will not fit that description. For instance, children are usually expected to grow up and become like their parents. An organism or species does not grow until it becomes like an entire biosphere (other than by adaptively radiating to form many species over billions of years). Another creature like Gaia would be a world-spanning layer of living organisms of multiple species, along with the biogeochemical cycles they impact. In order to not be Gaia herself, such a being would have to come into existence on another world. In other words, for Gaia to truly have children, and watch them grow into independant biosphere, she must spread life to other worlds. Gaia-forming Mars could create one such child. Creating habitats for ecosystems in the interiors of asteroids and ice-moons, or genetically engineered organisms that could survive on the surface of such barren worlds, would have the potential to create, for Gaia, a large family.
If humanity were to provide the service of helping Gaia to make seeds and spread them through the solar system and eventually to the stars, then humanity would be more like Gaia's flowers than Gaia's children. On the other hand, if humans were to travel to these other worlds in order to guide their growth, then those humans would cease to be part of Gaia and would instead help form the bodies of Gaia's children. Flowers or children or both, humanity has a wondrous role to play in the Gaia metaphor and future of Life on Earth.