Book Reviews: Environmental, Military and Political

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Here on Earth, an Argument for Hope by Tim FlanneryBook cover of Here on Earth, An Argument for Hope by Tim Flannery

Read By Tracy December 2010 (OurBookClub book pick of the month for December 2010)

Tracy recommends this as a chance to believe again

This is Tim Flannerys’ first book after The Weather Makers which I thoroughly recommend. During my recent thesis research on ecologically sustainable development I had grown increasingly cynical about the lack of action on environmental issues, particularly here in Australia. I am constantly questioning myself, feeling embarrassed to be the only one who does not want to live the supposed “Australian” dream of huge empty houses, big cars and large debt. Tim Flannery has given me hope and made me realise I am not alone and there are still people out there who do care and want to make a difference. He of course, has the ability to draw people’s attention to the damage we are causing to the Earth and this book highlighted our journey to where we are today and the glimmers of hope he finds for the future. There were some extremely poignant moments in the book where he called into question the lack of government action and excessive consumption and how he feels he must remain silent for “fear of social embarrassment”, particularly in relation to the hope before and despair after the Copenhagen 2009 Conference. I can already feel some people groaning and thinking “here she goes again with her hippie comments” but why can’t people take individual action and not follow like sheep and unquestioning their impacts. Even just from the fact that we have eaten everything and anything, so that now biodiversity is compromised. In a separate exercise, go and look at the list of extinct species or those on the brink of extinction – surely even the most die-hard supporters of a consumeristic lifestyle must stop and wonder what we are missing out on.

This book made me sit down and realise that if we all got off our behinds and as Flannery quotes “use our leisure hours to expand our minds” we could make real changes. He goes further by putting the blame of environmental destruction on those “who ignore the consequences of our consumption of water, food and energy, which only hastens the destruction – in the long term – of our kind”. I am glad he focuses on developed countries that have the ability to change but lack the courage as I think developed countries (including Australia) should set an example for others. My thesis resonated with Flannery’s comments and the realisation that the affluent need to set an example of managing their own and future expectations, no matter how difficult of impossible this seems.

I think the chapters that relate to chemical use and in particular the references to Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” should be mandatory to school children, just so they understand what short-sightedness can do in relation to the environment. After all hoping that children eschew their parents’ careless disregard for their fellow beings is the future.

There is a huge amount of research regarding the reliance on technology to solve environmental problems; however, Tim provides some good counterpoints in not relying on it, but involving and developing it to help target specific actions. I was extremely interested in the implementation of smart grids to allow consumers to efficiently utilise locally installed renewable energy generation systems. For me the ability to devolve energy generation seems practical, putting high costs onto those that continue to waste resources.

There are definitely some positives and the acknowledgement by some developing countries, particularly China, that they can make substantial changes which will lead the way in renewable energy targets is positive. Of course on the flip side Australia is now one of the worst countries in relation to environmental policy and constantly reversing any decisions that would upset the resource boom loved by so many citizens. I currently work for an engineering company, so also prosper under this boom, but on a personal level I at least acknowledge that we need to make a stand for what we believe in. I have long since given up on a government setting an example that may benefit anyone but the politicians.

This was an excellent book and I devoured it. Saddened in my own thoughts and not as optimistic or as hopeful as Tim, but also desperately hoping I am wrong and that people will realise that we are only here because of the biodiversity of the Earth that makes the planet habitable. Flannery has a great writing style - it is both informative and interesting. He takes a challenging and complex topic and provides a comprehensive but understandable response that is full of personal experiences and anecdotes, which in my experience allows readers to relate on a personal level. After studying climate change and carbon emissions, I could argue with a few of his technical assumptions, but isn’t that the point, he is opening communication and giving us the opportunity to take matters into our own hands. This book has started, hopefully, a paradigm shift where we begin to acknowledge that science does not have the answers and is limited in what it can tell us about the world. We need to embed science into our broader knowledge of the world, wich isn't currently the norm, but my hopes are high.

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Requiem for a Species by Clive HamiltonBook Cover of Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton

Read by Tracy in August 2010

Tracy recommends for a one sided look at Climate Change debate

I have read a few of Hamilton's books now, but this one was very one sided and considering he is Australian, also very biased towards the issues surrounding the debate in the United States. Although as I am writing my thesis on a similar topic, it is hard to not get caught up in the arguments without picking a side. It is globally agreed there is a problem, but you can't blame one person or country - it is a global problem and needs to be addressed as such. In my opinion, Hamilton should have spent more on consumerism and the disconnection from nature as this is where his strengths historically have been. I am not a great fan of books that constantly bemoan worst case scenarios as this tends to instil panic and most people cannot make a logical decision when in that state. There must be a radical change in thought processes and that has to start with ourselves and our ability to force governments to act as our elected representatives, not as they currently do and act in the best interests of lobby groups.

That said it still gives you plenty of food for thought and lots of banging your head on a brick wall moments.

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An Inconvenient Truth by Al GoreBook Cover of An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore

Read by Tracy in 2010

Tracy recommends for what is a startling movement and really got the climate change debate on the table

I don't know why it took me so long to read this book. It was only because I chose Al Gore as one of my topics during my final year at University that I sat down and watched the movie and also read the book. Whether you like or dislike Al Gore you can't help by being impressed with this ability to turn a powerpoint presentation into a global talking point and even though some of his figures have subsequently been dsiproved it was enough for him to share the Nobel Peace prize with the IPCC. The book is based on the slide show and does not grapple with all the intricacies of climate change, although sometimes it does tend to be overdramatic. Gore is not new to the green debate, he had previously written and talked on the subject, particularly during his vice-presidency. Gore has learnt to reduce his overly complex data into much more succinct charts and graphics and he clearly illustrates that human-induced carbon dioxide rises are evident. The book uses some great photos to highlight climate change and Gore also provides his personal opinions which are quite insightful. He worries about the American lifestyle and their profligate use of fossil fuels. He quotes Rachel Carson's classic "Silent Spring" which was a fantastic book, released in 1962, that drew attention to the dangers of pesticides and some say it started the modern environmental movement. However, at the end of the day there is no solution currently on the table to solve or even start solving any of the problems. The fact that the book is also a movie/powerpoint etc does provide different media options for the shorter attention spas that are prevalent today.

If you haven't watched it, it is definately worth getting out the DVD as there is lots of differing opinions and discussions from scientists to give you some more information on the subject.

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