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Originally published Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 7:03 PM

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Book review

Tim Flannery's 'Here on Earth': an optimistic prescription for the planet

Tim Flannery's new book "Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet" is an optimistic prescription for what we need to do to save the Earth. Flannery discusses his book Wednesday at Town Hall Seattle.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Tim Flannery

The author of "Here on Earth" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall Seattle. Tickets are $5 at or 800-838-3006 or at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m.
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'Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet'

by Tim Flannery

Atlantic Monthly Press, 316 pp., $25

In this world where so much of the news is negative, optimists are a rare breed. Australian ecologist and well-regarded writer Tim Flannery is an optimist, at least in his newest book. Taking the long view, geologically and ecologically, Flannery believes that we have the knowledge, skills, and most important, the evolutionary background to restore Earth.

Flannery centers his hopes on an outgrowth of ecologist James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis — that Earth is a self-regulating system composed of all life, rocks, oceans, and the atmosphere. Flannery describes how species evolved through "coevolution," or partnerships between organisms, which ultimately benefit, and "create a sum of biological productivity that is greater than [their] parts." It is an idea that, as he notes, mixes ideas from Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace, Richard Dawkins and Bill Hamilton, the founder of sociobiology. Unfortunately, we have moved away from this mutually beneficial way of living and "broken free of environmental constraint and destroyed many evolutionary bonds that lie at the heart of productive ecosystems," he says, citing the production of nasty chemicals, rampant mining and having too many kids.

Flannery raises many interesting questions and offers thoughtful answers. "Here on Earth," however, feels recycled. He does a good job pulling together diverse methods for saving the planet, from better management of soils to better use of technology, but they read like the typical litany of solutions. They sound great, but are not easy or inexpensive, and none will be implemented without revolutionary change. I guess that is the point of being an optimist — the belief that despite the odds one will succeed. Let's hope that Flannery's ideas flourish and triumph.

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