the new nature: book review
This book, by Tim Low, is full of interesting stories about how nature changes, how this affects, and is affected by, us humans and all the other species that together make up the idea of nature.
It's not a new book. It was first published in 2002 and has been updated a bit for this new edition. It's not about a particular aspect of our complicated environment. Tim looks at the big picture, and links all these stories into a narrative that gives a way of looking at, and evaluating, changes that are happening all the time around us, and responding to these changes.
It's about trying to get rid of our preconceptions and prejudices, our comfortable black and white thinking. It's about the risk we incur when we rely on our emotions and avoid thinking. Like, for instance, our beliefs that in relation to the environment humans are bad and animals, especially native animals, are good and in need of our protection.
The reality is that sometimes there are too many animals in a habitat that can no longer support them. They cannot survive in such numbers, and the stark choice may be to let them starve or cull them. A recent discussion paper by the Department of Environment, Water and Planning raised the question of the usefulness of wildlife shelters caring for injured animals in these kinds of situations.
Not surprisingly people were outraged at the idea that wildlife carers may be banned from saving native Australian marsupials. The reality is they do this work because it makes them feel good. Their work just doesn't necessarily fit with a plan based on scientific evidence, to improve biodiversity.
This book also debunked my claim to help the urban environment by having a wildlife friendly garden.
" Housing estates are very destructive and no amount of tinkering in the garden can alter that... We can't really create genuine rainforests and wetlands up by the barbie - this is naive. The real value of nature gardening is the contact it gives us with nature. We want birds and butterflies because they brighten up our lives. We don't want grasshoppers and moths, not because they need conserving less, but because they don't offer as much pleasure. Wildlife gardening, for most people, is more about personal gratification and flight from guilt than true conservation. We should not pretend that good deeds done in gardens atone for crimes committed elsewhere."
It doesn't make for comfortable reading. Australia is the worst country in the world for destroying forests and land clearing, and has the highest rate of mammal extinctions. We have politicians who are intent on supporting an Indian company, Adani, to build a new, huge coal mine in Queensland, despite even the banks refusing to finance it. And the state government of Victoria recently extended the licenses of two dirty brown coal power stations for another 20 years!
Tim Low talks about change in terms of winners and losers, opportunities and threats. Overall there are more losers than winners. But the more we understand the bigger picture, and some of the complexities and dilemmas, hopefully the more effectively we will be able to argue our case for stopping, or at least slowing the ongoing environmental degradation.
I find it impossible to summarize this wonderful book. Just read it!