Environment and Ecology

environment - ecology - nature - habitat - gaia - permaculture - systems - sustainability ...

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Books The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?

The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?

E-mail Print PDF

Peter WardThe Medea Hypothesis:
Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?
Peter Ward

In The Medea Hypothesis, renowned paleontologist Peter Ward proposes a revolutionary and provocative vision of life's relationship with the Earth's biosphere--one that has frightening implications for our future, yet also offers hope. Using the latest discoveries from the geological record, he argues that life might be its own worst enemy. This stands in stark contrast to James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis--the idea that life sustains habitable conditions on Earth. In answer to Gaia, which draws on the idea of the "good mother" who nurtures life, Ward invokes Medea, the mythical mother who killed her own children. Could life by its very nature threaten its own existence?

The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?According to the Medea hypothesis, it does. Ward demonstrates that all but one of the mass extinctions that have struck Earth were caused by life itself. He looks at our planet's history in a new way, revealing an Earth that is witnessing an alarming decline of diversity and biomass--a decline brought on by life's own "biocidal" tendencies. And the Medea hypothesis applies not just to our planet--its dire prognosis extends to all potential life in the universe. Yet life on Earth doesn't have to be lethal. Ward shows why, but warns that our time is running out.

Breathtaking in scope, The Medea Hypothesis is certain to arouse fierce debate and radically transform our worldview. It serves as an urgent challenge to all of us to think in new ways if we hope to save ourselves from ourselves.

Peter Ward's many books include the highly acclaimed Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe and Under a Green Sky (Collins). He is professor of biology and Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, and an astrobiologist with NASA.


"Ward holds the Gaia Hypothesis, and the thinking behind it, responsible for encouraging a set of fairy-tale assumptions about the earth, and he'd like his new book, due out this spring, to help puncture them. He hopes not only to shake the philosophical underpinnings of environmentalism, but to reshape our understanding of our relationship with nature, and of life's ultimate sustainability on this planet and beyond."--Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

"Author and Earth Sciences professor Ward has authored numerous books for non-specialists; this latest is a critical response to James Lovelock's Gaia concept, which argues that homeostatic physical and chemical interactions work to maintain Earth's habitability. Ward argue, passionately, that the opposite is true--that living organisms decrease Earth's habitability, hastening its end by perhaps a billion years."--PublishersWeekly.com

"The point of The Medea Hypothesis is that life, rather than helping to regulate the Earth 'System' by negative feedbacks, does all it can to consume the resources available--sowing the seeds of its own extinction."--Dr. Henry Gee, BBC Focus Magazine

"When avid science readers browse the shelves for new titles, the books that grab their attention are best described by a single adjective: thought-provoking. And no scientist/author is more provocative in his approach and innovative in his thinking than University of Washington astrobiologist Peter Ward . . . . [R]eaders looking for solace will not find it in Ward's latest effort, The Medea Hypothesis. This time Ward goes after motherhood itself--or at least the central idea of the Gaia ('good mother') hypothesis that has evolved to describe the relationship between life and the planet as a whole."--Fred Bortz, Seattle Times

"[Ward] makes his points succinctly and supports them well."--Rebecca Wigood, Vancouver Sun

Table of Contents:

Introduction ix
Chapter 1: Darwinian Life 1
Chapter 2: What Is Evolutionary "Success"? 14
Chapter 3: Two Hypotheses about the Nature of Life on Earth 24
Chapter 4: Medean Feedbacks and Global Processes 55
Chapter 5: Medean Events in the History of Life 72
Chapter 6: Humans as Medeans 91
Chapter 7: Biomass through Time as a Test 98
Chapter 8: Predicted Future Trends of Biomass 114
Chapter 9: Summation 126
Chapter 10: Environmental Implications and Courses of Action 128
Chapter 11: What Must Be Done 141
References 157
Index 173


  • Science Essentials

Subject Areas:



Choose Language