By the power of Hollywood heavyweights combined, Captain Planet may be coming to a movie theater near you. On Tuesday The Hollywood Reporter announced that Paramount and Appian Way Productions — the production company of environmentalist, actor, and possible Mars colonist Leonardo DiCaprio — are in talks for the rights to the 1990’s children’s television show. Rumor is that the film will be set years after the show’s end, with “the Captain, now a washed-up has-been, who needs the kids more than they need him.”
That’s the only detail we have so far, but may we so gently offer another edit to the original series: Cut out the spirit of Earth herself, Gaia. To refresh, the whole series starts because Gaia — charged with keeping the peace and harmony of Earth — is awoken to find that humans have screwed up Earth with their pollution and their disregard for recycling. She grabs some magic rings, gives them to five kids from around the world, and tells them they’re charged with fixing this mess. Oh, and when they can’t handle it alone, they can put their rings together to summon our favorite mulleted superhero, Captain Planet.
Gaia, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, embodied the environmental movement of the 1990s and represented a force both scientific and spiritual. Her name comes from the Gaia hypothesis, an idea proposed by NASA scientist James Lovelock in the 1960s. His theory was that Earth is a living organism, a self-regulating complex system, that allows life to exist through physical, biological, and chemical processes. Lovelock never meant that Earth was actually conscious, like a God, but the idea struck a cord for people looking for a spiritual way to connect to the environment. By the time Captain Planet premiered in 1990, Gaianism was a fixed spiritual movement that personified Earth as a goddess — much like the Gaia we see in the show.
But the reason that Gaia shouldn’t be in the new Captain Planet isn’t because of the spiritual aspect of the Gaia hypothesis (although, that explains her form). It’s because the Gaia hypothesis is bad science. While it’s still debated by some scientists and partitioners, the majority of scientists believe the theory is fallacy. Ethologist Richard Dawkins argues that the fact that the planet is unable to reproduce, and is not the offspring of any parents, disproves the idea that Earth is a living organism. Earth and planetary scientist James Kirchner agrees, writing that the central propositions of the hypothesis “do not fare well under close scrutiny.”
“Gaia, in its different guises, is a mixture of fact, theory, metaphor, and wishful thinking,” Kirchner wrote in 2002. “By claiming that organisms stabilize the global environment, and make it more suitable for life, Gaia’s proponents advance a much more ambitious argument … that is less clearly consistent with the available data, and one that sometimes may be difficult to test against data at all.”
Sure, it’s a nice thought that the Earth is a harmonious whole, but what we know about evolution and biology negates this. DiCaprio, who said in March that “we should not have a candidate who doesn’t believe in modern science,” should stand by modern science in the Captain Planet film and leave Gaia to the wishful thinking of the 1990s.