cover image The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People

The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People

Tim Flannery. George Braziller, $18.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8076-1403-7

Who destroys or ""eats"" the future? Those who have not shared a past: coevolution is the key to survival of all species, maintains Flannery, a senior research scientist in mammalogy at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Just as human immunities have failed when confronted with previously isolated viruses, so entire ecosystems have crumbled with the introduction of man. Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and New Guinea make for an interesting case study: though once conjoined, they later separated, developing disparate climates and soil types. Equally important, they were colonized at different times, with man reaching Australia 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and New Caledonia just 3500 years ago. Flannery posits that these virgin islands, which were replete with unexploited resources, naive, almost ``tame,'' herbivores and no real competition from other predators, allowed man to make ``the great leap forward'' to become not just one species among many but the species. New virgin territories presented other opportunities for wealth, population growth, leisure and subsequent leaps forward. But the cost is invariably great: human populations soar, then drop as food sources become extinct or soil is exhausted and imported ideas of agriculture, husbandry and hunting slowly give way to environmental reality--reality that is particularly harsh to Australia's poor soil. With great skill and research, Flannery demonstrates the subtle interaction that makes an ecosystem work, from glaciers to fire, from dung beetles to man. In the process he makes a formidable, sometimes frightening argument for careful cooperation with--rather than domination of--the world. (Oct.)