Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nonfiction (Science) - Here on Earth by Tim Flannery

Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet is intended as a popular science book that explains how the natural history of humanity has impacted the environment. At its heart are two theories of, basically, how Earth works. One is the Medea hypothesis, in which species naturally cause their own self-destruction by exploiting resources to the point of collapse. The other is the Gaia hypothesis, where Earth regulates itself (like homeostasis). The central purpose of the book is to determine whether Earth (under the influence of humans) is following a Medean or a Gaian path and what can be done by humanity to prevent complete ecological collapse.

Here on Earth is divided into six sections. They are (in an oversimplified version):
1. Basic overviews of theories of evolution and of other theories of how life on Earth runs
2. The beginnings of human life on Earth
3. Humans since the advent of agriculture
4. Human impact on the environment
5. Sociology and the environment
6. What the future holds

Contrary to the subtitle "A Natural History of the Planet," Here on Earth is less of a concise history of Earth's origins and the evolution of humanity and more of a compendium of facts about these subjects. That said, however, it's still completely fascinating. For example, did you know that there actually is a (real) creature referred to as a unicorn? It's a type of rhino with one single, really long horn - and it lasted at least until the 10th century A.D. Besides being interesting, though, Flannery writes for the average person. He doesn't oversimplify things to the point of seeming like he's teaching down to readers, but at the same time most of what he writes is perfectly comprehensible to me (I've had only the basic required high school science classes, and the majority of the few places in the book that I didn't completely understand were based on politics and economics, which I don't usually understand anyway). Flannery backs up his information with sources (appropriately cited with notes in the back), and he keeps away from extremist, gloom-and-doom predictions. Even though the book carries a clear message for better ecological management and conservation, it's not "SAVE THE EARTH OR WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE"; it's "Our current (and past) practices are probably going to come back to bite us in the butt, so let's try to do something to remedy it now." Flannery isn't a Luddite, either - he encourages the use of technology in managing resources and as potential future ways of fixing environmental problems. My one complaint about Here on Earth, which was otherwise fascinating and eye-opening for me on the topics of human and natural history and environmental science, is that Flannery does little to explain how average people can change the current environmental state, instead detailing what governments and corporations, etc. should improve on. But hey, it's a relatively small book for its topic and there's only so much that can be fit into it.

Concluding Thoughts: I foresee more science courses in my future, and my plans for my summer garden just skyrocketed.

My ARC of Here on Earth was provided by the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press. Here on Earth was originally published in Australia in 2010. The US edition came out on April 5, 2011.

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