Is CO2 causing the madness that is afflicting the Earth (tea baggers, suicide bombers, denialists, creationists, gun lobbyists, evangelists, militias, reality tv contestants)? I ask the question merely to give me the chance of answering it with a resounding yes, and for you to instantly say, "oh, of course, yes, why didn't I think of that, how stupid I must be." So let me carefully guide you through the thought process that brought me to this Nobel Prize winning insight. You've heard of Gaia, right? Earth as an organism with bodily functions and self regulation? So if it has a body it must have a collective mind, the sum total of 7 billion thinking human beings and uncounted numbers of other thinking non-human beings. Has generally worked ok, brain snaps in one part of the planet being balanced by rationality in another. But recently we seem to have had a general brain snap, a case of, well, universal insanity. We had got through the first world war, and then the second, those two tumors on the universal brain had been treated and excised. Still some residual madness with two groups of apparently sane people threatening to not just commit genocide, blow each other up, but commit Gaiacide, wipe out the whole planet they were standing on; others practicing racism until they got really good at it; trying to hold on to other people's countries until they were milked dry; keeping 50% of the two human sexes barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. But we got through all that and made it to the Sixties, that magical decade where it seemed that peace and love would prevail, the universal mind would be again capable of rational thought.
But in the last 40 years we have been heading for hell in an accelerating handcart. Undoing all the good of the Sixties brain nourishment. Symptoms of insanity erupting all over the world again. Religion coming back out of the dark cloisters it had been thankfully banished to and once again wrecking the ability of individuals and then whole societies to think rationally. And I asked myself, why is it so? Puzzled over it as I watched the evening news bulletins with an increasing sense of despair. Wracked my brains to discover the reason for the wrecked brains. Then it came to me in a blinding flash as I lay awake in the dark hours around 3am, the time sent to try men's souls if we had souls. What else had been increasing, unprecedently, in lockstep with the growing insanity in the collective brain? Why, Carbon Dioxide of course.
Oh we all know, have known for years, that it was having a bad effect on the body of Gaia. Been running a temperature in fact. All sorts of sniffles and sneezes, leading, unless we look after ourselves, to a much more serious pneumonia. But no one had realised that it was also affecting brains. Is driving them, us, slowly mad. And what is worse is that it forms one of those feedback processes, so familiar from the effects on the body of Gaia. You see the higher the levels of CO2 the stupider becomes the human race and the less able it is to do anything to stop the increase. Stupider and stupider, higher and higher.
But this was all just a theory - a convincing theory, of course, but it needed something more. Darwin needed natural selection, Hansen needed greenhouse effects, I needed some mechanism to explain the effect the rising CO2 was having on this mad mad world. And suddenly there it was. You will have heard of "Near Death Experiences" no doubt, the staple of evangelicals and insensitive new age guys alike. People report having wandered down a tunnel towards a bright light with or without heavenly angels with or without wings and then being pulled back to the real world just in the nick of time. For those to whom any irrational explanation, as long as it supports an imaginary friend, is preferred to any rational explanation for some phenomenon, this kind of experience is "proof" of the presence of heaven. Well, a brightly lit kind of heaven anyway. For those of us left behind in this vale of tears and sorrow, the real world, the near death experiences are, well, the result of your brain being near death and therefore subject to all kinds of odd chemical effects. People have suggested oxygen starvation before, but the new study brings our old friend CO2 into the equation. High CO2 causes the bright lights and other hallucinations in patients suffering heart attacks etc.
So, a mechanism. The rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are causing the rising levels of hallucination in the population. Fortunately if those of us who are resistant to its influence can manage to convince the world to turn down the valve on the CO2 cylinder, then we can go into a reverse feedback. Gradually, as the levels drop, more and more of our fellow citizens will return to the real world, blinking and looking confused, but in turn settling down to help us meet the crisis. And the near death experience for Gaia will be just that.
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