Here On Earth, by Tim Flannery

The cover of Here On Earth, by Tim Flannery
Manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests!

I have a problem making decisions. On more than one occasion last year I spent hours wandering the shelves at Borders trying to take advantage of a discount voucher, or most recently, $20 free credit for signing up with Borders v.i.p. card. Another thing I have trouble coming to a decision on is climate change. I’m not a sceptic – far from it – I just don’t know whether to believe that mankind is really going to be able to make a difference (which makes me a cynic – not that that’s news to anybody).

Hence why I picked Here On Earth by Tim Flannery – a leading Australian scientist, a global climate change activist, and Australian of the Year 2007. A review in SMH gave the book glowing praise for presenting the climate change debate in optimistic terms – maybe here was the antidote to my misanthropy.

The first 2/3 or so reads like a Bill Bryson book – an meandering and largely amiable tour through our history as a species, firmly grounded in scientific fact. He sets up a duality between Darwinian and Wallacean forms of evolution, representing them as “Gaia” and “Medea” respectively, which turns out to be the perfect framework on which to hang a narrative about our continuing relationship with the planet: “Mother Nature or Monster Earth”.

The latter part of the book though, suffers greatly from the shifting sands of political discourse, and as much as I respect and admire Flannery’s sagacity and depth of passion displayed up to this point, it wasn’t sufficient to impart the positive outlook claimed in the book’s tagline: An Argument For Hope. Presented almost as a laundry list of actions that politicians around the world could, should and would do, it’s difficult to believe that enough of them will be adopted in time and at the scales necessary to reverse the damage.

In spite of that, Here On Earth should be on the reading list of everybody who doesn’t have a good grounding in the climate change debate (and that includes anybody in Australia whose only source of information is what they’ve been fed by the media).

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