Tim Flannery: We May Save the Planet Yet. Or Not.

Here on Earth, by Tim FlanneryEnvironmentalists, take heart. Sure, the world may be about to end – but not yet. And if Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery is right, there’s actually time to save it, and there’s even a strong likelihood we’re going to. This is the message of Flannery’s latest book, Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, and that’s what he told an appreciative audience recently at the Appel Salon in the Toronto Reference Library. Interviewed by journalist and TVO host Allan Gregg, Flannery acknowledged the foreboding evidence he described in his earlier book, The Weather Makers, but he’s seen and done a lot of things since he wrote it, and has found astonishing reasons for hope.

It’s all because evolution isn’t “survival of the fittest,” after all, says Flannery. Rather, the evolutionary mechanism is more cooperative and collaborative. This view may contradict Darwin’s to some degree, but it has just as long a history. Alfred Russell Wallace, who developed evolutionary theory at the same time as Darwin, saw nature not as a bloody competition but as a system of cooperation and collaboration. And James Lovelock, who more recently propounded the Gaia Philosophy, sees things the same way. The world is a system that self-regulates, each part of it collaborating to create the optimum conditions for life, and survival.

This means, Flannery says, that the world is more like a body than a competition. And after all, you don’t really find the bladder, spleen, and lungs competing viciously to see which can defeat the others and be the last organ standing. Instead, they all work together so all will survive. As Gregg suggested, “Evolution is on our side, then.”

And we are gradually seeing the development of that kind system, where the world is the body and we ourselves are the brain. As Flannery says, there’s a great coming-together in our economics, our slowly unifying belief systems, connections in communication – and even our genetics will slowly merge as we continue traveling and intermarrying. Humans are emerging out of a “warring tribes” state and evolving into the world of an integrated “superorganism.”

It’s not that this definitely will save the planet, you understand. But the conditions are coming into existence in which we finally can. In fact, Flannery says – and this is both thrilling and very frightening – for good or ill, our living generation is the one that will finally choose, and take whatever action we’re going to take. Or not take.

The Weather Makers, by Tim FlanneryThis is a good news/bad news scenario for Canadians, though. While Australians are beginning to make big strides in reducing their carbon footprint, with even the Indians and Chinese starting to move toward green technologies, the same can’t be said forCanada. Gregg asked, “Is our reputation really that bad in the world?” To which the extremely well-travelled Flannery replied, “Sadly, it is.” With Stephen Harper in charge, in fact,Canada’s part in saving the world has not just diminished, but plummeted.

But if Flannery is right, the human race in general may yet save the planet, and just happen to drag Canadaalong with it. That’s the primary message of Here on Earth, and that was his emphasis to the enthralled crowd throughout the interview and the Q&A afterward. It’s possible for humanity to evolve to a point of integration with the earth, to its ultimate salvation, or to continue as we have been, and doom it altogether. And those who are alive today will know what choice humanity made before they pass on.

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