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Non-fiction review: Here on Earth

'Here on Earth' Here on Earth
Tim Flannery
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Flannery’s new book Here On Earth reads like a cross between Bill Bryson and Jared Diamond, which is reassuring given it has the title of a Leelee Sobieski film. It also sort of makes sense; both of these authors have read and commented on the book, and Diamond is referenced throughout. Flannery has clearly read their work and is borrowing from their styles, which I enjoyed.

The book talks a lot about the Gaia Hypothesis and essentially argues for it throughout. For those unaware, the Gaia hypothesis states that the world as a whole tends to act as a singular organism and has many feedbacks and other mechanisms to maintain a given state. I personally am not a fan. I believe the world does a lot of things we don’t understand and certainly has all sorts of negative and positive feedback models going on, but I find both the name of the hypothesis and many of the people claiming to adhere to it irritating. It’s all a bit hippy-pie-in-the-sky from where I’m sitting, and I was surprised to find Flannery advocating it.

That said, he makes a lot of good arguments for the ability of the planet to maintain itself, and then moves on. He refers to the Gaian hypothesis in opposition to a Medean mindset; if I caught the gist of it, one is about working for a common good while the other is about fighting for individual goals. His argument is that one will lead to the saving of the planet – because we’ve succeeded in doing it before – while the other will lead to slowly deteriorating lives or dying in the event of climate change. It’s uplifting reading, particularly the statistics on the expected death tolls from climate change.

Being Flannery, the book ranges far and wide. He considers the development of Darwinian and Wallacian views of evolution and their social impacts, and asks what would have happened socially had the survival of the fittest view not prevailed. He also looks at many of the unknown and unexpected impacts of the lives we live at the moment, with a particularly fun section on PCBs and hormone disruptors, and non-prescription medications. Suffice to say that if Australia had vultures, I’d need a new muscle relaxant.

It’s an enjoyable book but I got to the end wondering what it was meant to achieve. Certainly, arguments for compromise and cooperation are always valuable, but I don’t feel it particularly shifted my worldview or offered any prescriptions for action. Still – it’ll make a great Christmas present for my Dad.

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Comments

  1. Interesting review thanks Georgia. I’m reading this book next and really look forward to it. I think the Gaia hypothesis is brilliant and the name perfect – about time we acknowledged the earth goddess among all these murderous jealous sky gods – and Lovelock’s science is mostly highly regarded, especially in the last decade or so when there’s more and more evidence for his decades’ old hypothesis. So I’m pleased to hear Flannery is doing Gaia. It makes me more keen to read the book. And I’ll be interested to read about the Medean mindset. Greek mythology as a way of expressing dynamics such as the Oedipal complex worked for Freud, and Lovelock’s use of it for the planet works for me too.

  2. Thanks for the great review – this book does look fascinating. Another good non-fiction read you might enjoy on a lighter note is written by Tom McLaughlin entitled, \Borneo Tom.\ Tom is a retired biology teacher who has chronicled his life and times along with eye catching sketches in Malaysia. His descriptions of Darwin and Alfred Wallace are probably bitingly true and his story about finding love, marriage and fatherhood at almost 60 is truly amazing. I hope you can check this one out.

  3. Nice review – I’m part way through it at present, and came across your review while googling other views of the \Medean tendency\.
    I like that fact that Flannery is not afraid to admit how much of the world we do not yet understand, how he acknowledges ‘love’ yet openly admits he cannot fully explain it (who can!?). So the short summary of the book could be \science points to love, but doesn’t know why\.
    Classic Flannery a damn good read, and so much to feed your decision-making and opinion-forming…

  4. In my review of ‘Here on Earth’, published in the Tasmanian Times, I suggest that our plight stems from failing to pursue serious space development in the 1970s, which would have included building solar power stations in space, which would have left much of the carbon dragon buried and therefore we would have avoided dangerous climate change.

    http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/weblog/article/book-review-here-on-earth-/

    I suggest a solution to our problem that includes catching up with the future that we fell back from in the 1970s, where we may now need to build solar power stations in space to desalinate ocean water and pump this to where people will need the liquid gold to survive and use the water and energy to keep cool, where life may need to be in protected environments.

    I suggest that where this book ends could be the beginning of a second part, to explore how space development could save our hides on Earth as we expand into the celestial realm.

    Kim Peart

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