Gaia, Ô Gaia
January 2004
They say that the ozone layer is shrinking, that the great glaciers are melting, that the air we breathe and the water that surrounds us are polluted. Gosh! Gaia is showing serious signs of trouble. Maybe it’s time we took notice? Ever heard of Gaia? Of course you have! Especially you, the agricultural producer, you know her better than anyone else, albeit under another name: according to Greek mythology, Gaia is the Earth goddess, Mother Earth. The name was revived in the sixties by James Lovelock, an English biologist who, while working with NASA, came up with the hypothesis that our planet and its atmosphere are one, a single living organism. The Gaia hypothesis has been circulating ever since and scientists are seriously considering it. But beware, as poetic and harmless as this hypothesis may seem, it is also teeming with heavy consequences: for if Gaia has a life of its own, Gaia can die and her eventual demise may be accelerated as her internal equilibrium becomes weaker. Consequently, Mankind will also become non-existent since it is a part of Gaia…

Far be it for me to sound the alarm! In truth, I’ve always had faith in Mankind and his creativity. So I was pleased to read an article in L’Agora (Volume 9, Issue 3) written by Andrée Mathieu. She talks about how a group of about fifty Swedish scientists got together in 1989 and formed a coalition to focus on sustainable development. The group called itself The Natural Step and now reaches 10,000 Swedes and more than 60 companies and as many Swedish municipalities. Their work led them to a statement of rules which we can all relate to and use to participate, on our own, to the planet’s sustainable development. Let me summarize them for you: do not extract from the earth’s crust more or at a faster pace than it can renew itself, manage refuse to avoid their accumulation in the biosphere, and manage the earth’s resources and nature’s diversity as a trusted friend. Good common sense, but common sense that also has the merit of rallying human involvement.

To put this theory into practice, Andrée Mathieu goes on to suggest all that remains to be learned from nature. As agricultural producers, you would be proud to hear her describe the intelligence and saving savoir-faire of nature’s processes. She believes that humans have more to discover than to invent, such as how bees navigate, how termite nests keep warm and cool, how spiders produce their webs, the transportation efficiency of hummingbirds… amazing wonders that we humans have yet to equal! It is through the observation of Nature’s workings that scientists have come to define certain natural laws. Here they are as presented in the article:
Nature is solar powered.
Nature only uses the energy it needs.
Nature adapts form to function.
Nature recycles everything.
Nature rewards cooperation.
Nature capitalizes on diversity.
Nature seeks local expertise.
Nature doesn’t overdo it.
Nature uses its limits to stimulate its creativity.

Such wisdom in so few words. Perhaps we can find a way to bring the industry’s workings closer to those of nature’s ecosystems! Andrée Mathieu proposes a few suggestions. Some Danish companies, inspired by nature, introduced a model based on an industrial cluster, somewhat like that proposed by Gérald Tremblay when he was Québec’s minister of Industry in Bourassa’s government, but the difference with this new model is that it forms a complete and balanced system: nothing is lost and everything is transformed. Manufacturing waste is in fact raw matter for some other industry. This is aptly called eco-friendly industrial parks. The added bonus is that they are also financially interesting.

This definitely deserves some looking into! And if results are conclusive, couldn’t we include farms? Couldn’t we complete, even replace the vertical integration concept by one of inter-company coordination, calling on citizen accountability? Wow! Big challenge. A project for our society as a whole. One that would require an exemplary cooperation on the part of the industrial community as well as sustained support from government. Seems like we would need to convince a lot of people.… Well. I guess the Scandinavian people have much to teach us. I think we should definitely keep an eye on them.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: (514) 858-2025


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