tank, whirling on its way. And what about the cow and all the other ruminants? Their ability to digest cellulose comes from a veritable garden of different bacteria, including the belch-inducing methanogens.
Her symbiotic view of nature has coloured her way of seeing the panoply of nature, and from early on in her career, Margulis has been engaged in working out an evolutionary classification of living organisms and their ancestors. Her five-kingdom approach, which she acknowledges was based on the work of other prescient biologists such as Robert Whittaker of Cornell, sees bacteria as the base of all past, present and future forms of life. They are the prokaryote - organisms without a cell nucleus. Then come the largely overlooked, neglected protoctists, many unknown, unstudied, but which feature among them 250,000 different species, amoebae, ciliates, algae, slime moulds and a plethora of strange organisms like Mixotricha. The protoctists are neither animal nor plant, but according to Margulis' classification, they provide the launching pad for the myriad multicellular organisms that we know of as fungi, plants and animals.
Sex, says Margulis, arose out of predation and cannibalism among the early protocysts, in which the organism became burdened with excess nuclei and genetic material. It was a way of getting back to the haploid state - and then it became institutionalized. Advantages accrue from the generation to generation shuffling of the chromosome deck and the dispersion of new combinations of new attributes. But sex condemns the organism that indulges in it to ageing and death.
Fascinating in what is a personal account of her convictions and how she got to them, is Margulis's notion that the truly big steps taken by life, such as the colonisation of the land some 450 million years ago, must be attributed to symbiosis. Here she pays homage to the inseparable association between fungi and algae, which paved the way for the evolution of plants. Lichens, composed of associations between fungi, algae and bacteria, are a first step, though still very much in evidence and essential in the production of soil from bare, exposed, maybe newly-generated rock. Even inhospitable Antarctica hosts more living matter in the form of lichens - some 130 million million tonnes - than is the total for the oceans. The next step is the evolution of what we classify as true plants. Here again, the association between fun
gal mycorrhiza and the growing plant are essential. The result of that all-pervading symbiosis is the proliferation of life on land, giving us the world we know.
The ultimate symbiosis is the sum of all such associations and it generates the self-enriching, self-regulating phenomenon that we have dubbed Gaia. It is that interconnectedness, the thread that passes right through evolution that ties the whole system together: the surface of the planet with its rocks, ocean and atmosphere with life in its totality. The emergent property of the system is its ability to regulate planetary phenomena such as the gaseous content of the atmosphere, the salinity of the oceans and the attributes of climate that help regulate surface temperature, such as the transfer of energy through the intervention of the living system from hot, sun-drenched equatorial zones to the high latitudes.
As a personal summary of Lynn Margulis's life's work to date, The Symbiotic Planet is a powerful antidote to the more conventional view of evolution and how species came into being. Margulis's is certainly a point of view that needs to be heard. - Peter Bunyard
GOING LOCAL: CREATING SELF-
RELIANT COMMUNITIES IN A
GLOBAL AGE by Michael H. Shuman Free Press, New York, 1998,
ISBN 0 684 83012 4
Aclassic military-style pincer movement is required to get globalisation under control. One prong of the attack is already well-developed - book after book, study after study has shown that the free movement of goods and of capital around the world has widened the gap between rich and poor countries, and
between rich and poor people. It has made life worse, riskier and less sustainable for the majority of the world's population.
Even eminent economists are starting to admit this. Writing in the prestigious US journal Foreign Affairs recently, a respected trade theorist from Columbia University, Jagdish Bhagwati, said that "the claims of enormous benefits from free capital movements are not persuasive."
Research at Harvard University bears this out. Drawing on data from 100 countries between 1975 and 1989, Dani Rodrik found that those countries which had restricted external capital flows had not generated any less economic growth or had a lower level of investment than those which had exposed themselves to all comers. "We have no evidence that [capital mobility] will solve any of our problems, and some reason to think that it may make them worse," Rodrik concluded.
And economic growth itself is starting to look suspect. In a 1997 study, Life During Growth: William Easterly, a senior economist at the World Bank, set out to investigate whether "life improves when a poor Togo becomes a richer Togo". He looked at how 95 indicators of human well-being in a wide range of countries had been affected by increases in national income over the past 30-40 years. He found, much to his surprise, that only five indicators could be shown to have been improved by growth. The improvements were higher protein and calorie intakes, more telephones, more commercial vehicles (some of his measures of human welfare are rather odd), and governments which broke contracts less often. "The evidence that life gets better during growth is surprisingly uneven," he concludes, grudgingly.
But evidence like this is not enough by itself to persuade our politicians to change direction. Indeed, it's not even enough to convince some of our activists. "It's easy enough to attack globalisation," someone from the Worldwide Fund for Nature remarked to me recently. "Its much harder to present an alternative."
He was right. The missing arm of our pincer attack is our lack of a coherent relocalisation strategy, and the importance of Michael Shuman's book is that it goes a very long way indeed towards developing one - for residents of the United States. I want to stress this. Going Local is not a global book, and this is its strength rather than its weakness. It
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999