Biosphere Quotes (11 quotes)
A lot of people ask, “Do you think humans are parasites?” It’s an interesting idea and one worth thinking about. People casually refer to humanity as a virus spreading across the earth. In fact, we do look like some strange kind of bio-film spreading across the landscape. A good metaphor? If the biosphere is our host, we do use it up for our own benefit. We do manipulate it. We alter the flows and fluxes of elements like carbon and nitrogen to benefit ourselves—often at the expense of the biosphere as a whole. If you look at how coral reefs or tropical forests are faring these days, you’ll notice that our host is not doing that well right now. Parasites are very sophisticated; parasites are highly evolved; parasites are very successful, as reflected in their diversity. Humans are not very good parasites. Successful parasites do a very good job of balancing—using up their hosts and keeping them alive. It’s all a question of tuning the adaptation to your particular host. In our case, we have only one host, so we have to be particularly careful.
Biology is a science of three dimensions. The first is the study of each species across all levels of biological organization, molecule to cell to organism to population to ecosystem. The second dimension is the diversity of all species in the biosphere. The third dimension is the history of each species in turn, comprising both its genetic evolution and the environmental change that drove the evolution. Biology, by growing in all three dimensions, is progressing toward unification and will continue to do so.
Biology occupies a position among the sciences both marginal and central. Marginal because, the living world, constituting only a tiny and very “special” part of the universe, it does not seem likely that the study of living beings will ever uncover general laws applicable outside the biosphere. But if the ultimate aim of the whole of science is indeed, as I believe, to clarify man's relationship to the universe, then biology must be accorded a central position, since of all the disciplines it is the one that endeavours to go most directly to the heart of the problems that must be resolved before that of “human nature” can even be framed in other than metaphysical terms.
Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere. In effect natural selection operates upon the products of chance and can feed nowhere else; but it operates in a domain of very demanding conditions, and from this domain chance is barred. It is not to chance but to these conditions that eveloution owes its generally progressive cource, its successive conquests, and the impresssion it gives of a smooth and steady unfolding.
Evolution in the biosphere is therefore a necessarily irreversible process defining a direction in time; a direction which is the same as that enjoined by the law of increasing entropy, that is to say, the second law of thermodynamics. This is far more than a mere comparison: the second law is founded upon considerations identical to those which establish the irreversibility of evolution. Indeed, it is legitimate to view the irreversibility of evolution as an expression of the second law in the biosphere.
Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty—but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s where all the good stuff is.
The big blue area that dominates the view of earth from space was once our home and today represents 97 percent of the biosphere where life exists, providing the water we drink and the air we breathe. And we are destroying it.
The Gaia Hypothesis asserts that Earth’s atmosphere is continually interacting with geology (the lithosphere). Earth’s cycling waters (the hydrosphere), and everything that lives (the biosphere). … The image is that the atmosphere is a circulatory system for life’s bio-chemical interplay. If the atmosphere is pan of a larger whole that has some of the qualities of an organism, one of those qualities we must now pray for is resilience.
The most wonderful mystery of life may well be the means by which it created so much diversity from so little physical matter. The biosphere, all organisms combined, makes up only about one part in ten billion of the earth's mass. … Yet life has divided into millions of species, the fundamental units, each playing a unique role in relation to the whole.
The totality of life, known as the biosphere to scientists and creation to theologians, is a membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin it cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered. The membrane is seamless. From Everest's peak to the floor of the Mariana Trench, creatures of one kind or another inhabit virtually every square inch of the planetary surface.
When some portion of the biosphere is rather unpopular with the human race–a crocodile, a dandelion, a stony valley, a snowstorm, an odd-shaped flint–there are three sorts of human being who are particularly likely still to see point in it and befriend it. They are poets, scientists and children. Inside each of us, I suggest, representatives of all these groups can be found.