Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Future Eaters, by Tim Flannery


This is a subject I know very little about. It’s embarrassing to say, but Australia’s ecological history, its natural past way beyond any human habitation, is something I’ve not given much thought to.

Tim Flannery’s genius is in taking as a starting point for Australia’s history year dot. Part one is pre-Aboriginal life, then the impact of the Aboriginal lifestyle on the environment, then finally, in part three, European impact on the environment.

Flannery’s thesis that Australia is overpopulated has been controversial. He basically thinks the population should be reduced to around 9 million people. Our dry, harsh climate is not conducive to carrying so many people.

My limited readings in science tell me that it is a maddeningly contradictory discipline. Flannery indulges in so many what ifs and theories and ‘my hunch’ type of speculations that the reader can frequently find themselves rolling their eyes. No wonder people are sceptical of so much science (especially global warming).

It’s of course fair enough that Flannery will have his theories for things that happened millions of years in the past, but in the end there is no way of proving them to be true. So in the end it makes you wonder how much the imagination of these scientists takes over reality.

Furthermore, you sense a creeping political agenda, for a population policy must have an agenda. This made me squirm in my chair a bit. I thought I was reading a book about science, but really the book was compelling me to be in sympathy with a certain political outlook.

One other last point: some of the writing in the book I wasn’t too fond of either. It was a bit fey, or too cute. Sometimes too romantic. Again, I thought this book was a scientific treatise, not an Emily Bronte novel. (More chair squirming.)

I hope the above doesn’t sound too cynical or negative. I like Tim Flannery, in fact I like him a lot, and I’m in broad agreement with The Future Eaters.
We must live within the bounds of the Australian environment. We must not pretend we’ve successfully transplanted Europe to Australia. We must not make undue demands on the environment. We must live sustainably.

I learnt a lot from The Future Eaters, and it has changed my outlook and opened my eyes considerably.

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