Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planetby Tim Flannery
Credited with discovering more species than Darwin, praised for his “ability to take complex ideas andseemingly effortlessly make them accessible” (Sydney Morning Herald), Tim Flannery is one of the world’s most influential scientists, head of Australia’s Climate Change Commission, and a best-selling author. In his newest/i>… See more details below
Credited with discovering more species than Darwin, praised for his “ability to take complex ideas andseemingly effortlessly make them accessible” (Sydney Morning Herald), Tim Flannery is one of the world’s most influential scientists, head of Australia’s Climate Change Commission, and a best-selling author. In his newest book, Here on Earthan immediate best seller in Australiahe has written a captivating and dramatic narrative about the origins of life and the history of our planet.
Beginning at the moment of creation with the Big Bang, Here on Earth explores the evolution of Earth from a galactic cloud of dust and gas to a planet with a metallic core and early signs of life within a billion years of being created. In a compelling narrative, Flannery describes the formation of the Earth’s crust and atmosphere, as well as the transformation of the planet’s oceans from toxic brews of metals (such as iron, copper, and lead) to life-sustaining bodies covering 70 percent of the planet’s surface. Life, Flannery shows, first appeared in these oceans in the form of microscopic plants and bacteria, and these metals served as catalysts for the earliest biological processes known to exist.
From this starting point, Flannery tells the story of the evolution of our own species, exploring several early human speciesfrom the diminutive creatures (the famed hobbits) who lives in Africa around two million years ago, to Homo erectusbefore durning his attention to Homo sapiens, who first started leaving Africa some fifty thousand years ago. Drawing on Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Russell Wallace’s theories of evolution and Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth is a dazzling account of life on our planet.
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The author's stated goal with Here on Earth is a "twin biography" of Life and planet Earth. A better title would have been Life on Earth given the text's minimal venture into geology. The basic theme of at least a third of Here on Earth is what Flannery sees as a fundamental contrast between Darwinism (evolution via "tooth and claw") and Wallaceanism (co-evolution of species and Earth toward cooperation and mutual benefit.) Even given that such a contrast is valid (although I really doubt that Darwin would be in any way upset with examples of the evolution of mutualism), it is a stretch to claim that social Darwinism is the root cause of today's environmental problems. If anything, it is the modern rejection of social Darwinism (except by Wall Street) that has opened the door to universal prosperity and population growth, which, if mismanaged, threaten the function of Earth's ecosystems. The Gaian perspective that Earth will strike back and restore equilibrium is cold comfort to the residents of Tuvalu and the Maldives. Where the author does briefly touch on Earth topics as a segue into Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis as the modern equivalent of Wallace's holistic view of evolution, Flannery (as does Lovelock) overemphasizes the role of life in geologic evolution. While it is certainly true that life has left its imprint on the geologic record (especially in sedimentary formations), it is hard to accept that Life's impact on the course of plate tectonics and the evolution of the continents has been all that fundamental and significant. Earth has been endowed with the basic ingredients to ensure that mantle convection, the differentiation of mafic and sialic rocks within the igneous and metamorphic rock cycles, and the essentials of the hydrologic cycle (even without oxygen) would have proceeded in much the way they have with or without Life. Flannery devotes another third of the book to a summary of environmental topics. For anyone not familiar with the basics of environmental science as laid out in many textbooks, Flannery's review through several chapters of the high points is clear, lucid and worth reading - even if it has to be taken with a grain of salt. When he occasionally slips into hyperbole, his conclusions suffer as with his claim of 220,000 annual human deaths due to pesticide poisoning. Here on Earth concludes on an optimistic note that is shared, not too surprisingly, with several other commentators these days. After all, what's the use in predicting the total collapse of civilization no matter what? Although Flannery's solutions tend to be over-the -top, better to offer solutions than to wring your hands. There will come a point (if it hasn't already come) when the human race will have to reach a consensus that business can't go on as usual. At that point all we have learned about the function of Earth's systems will begin to pay off as human's scramble to patch up the mess as best they can.
A profound and interesting look at the earth and how our culture has misread her depths. A positive work by a brilliant scientist on how to save ourselves and the planet by using our innate bond with nature.