You might remember that I’ve been in California for several weeks now. The principal reason for my visit was to finish a book that Paul Ehrlich and I started last year. So, without the major distractions of everyday university life, I’ve spent much of my time lately at Stanford University in a little office next to Paul’s trying to finish (I also attended a conference in Portland, Oregon).
Yesterday, we wrote the last few paragraphs. A giant gorilla has now lumbered its way off my back.
So. What is the book about, you might ask? I can’t give away too many details, but I will give a few teasers. The book is called, at least for now, ‘Oz & US’, which is a bit of a play of words. In the book we contrast the environmental histories, current state of affairs, and likely futures of our respective nations. It’s written in a popular style so that non-specialists can learn a little something about how bad the environment has become in our two countries.
At first glance, one might wonder why we chose to contrast the U.S. and Australia – they are quite different beasts, indeed. Their histories are immensely different, from the aboriginal populations, through to European colonisation (timing and drivers), biological (including agricultural) productivities, carrying capacities, population sizes and politics. But these differences belie too many convergences in the environmental states of each nation – we now both have increasingly degraded environments, we have both pushed the boundaries of our carrying capacities, and our environmental politics are in a shambles. In other words, despite having started with completely different conditions, our toll on nature’s life-support systems is now remarkably similar.
And anyone who knows Paul and me will appreciate that the book is completely irreverent. We have taken off the gloves in preparation for a bare-knuckle fight with the plutocrats and theocrats now threatening the lives of our grandchildren. We pull no punches here.
But, we’ve also tried to make it as humorous as we can, without relying on that bastion of the witless – overuse of the rhetorical. The book starts off with an explanation of why we wrote the book. Next we follow with a brief history of the two nations when humans enter the scene (aboriginal arrival and the subsequent European invasion). We then contrast the rise of environmentalism in each country, noting how our sustainability consciousnesses developed in strikingly different ways. Then we do a bit of accounting on the current state of environmental damage in each country, covering everything from deforestation, toxification, extinction rates and invasive species.
Following this first account, we get political. We target the plutocrats now threatening our futures by stealing from the poor and hoarding amongst the already rich (the Hood Robin effect), and point out how the rise of theocracy, especially in the U.S., is part and parcel of the destruction of sanity in rational governance of our natural assets.
We finish by placing the two countries’ situation within a global context, and provide a fairly extensive list of ‘solutions’ to some of our biggest environmental problems.
It’s a relatively short book (11 chapters and about 50,000 words), so it should be light reading for most. Needless to say, I’m excited about getting it published and seeing the world’s response – we hope to see it on bookshelves sometime in early 2013.
Many thanks to Paul, the book-writing veteran (he’s published some 30 books of this sort over his amazing career) who mentored me in the process, to Anne Ehrlich, his wife, for fascinating conversations and insights, to Stanford for its hospitality and to many, many others who supported this venture (including The University of Adelaide, my family and my students who endured the absences). Cheers!