Book ReviewsClimate changeEnvironment

Book and film reviews

By 5 June 2024June 13th, 2024No Comments

A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate- Everyone’s Guide to the Science of Climate Change

Review by Barbara Fraser

Steven Earle’s climate book is a perfect beauty: A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate- Everyone’s Guide to the Science of Climate Change. Published in Canada in 2021, 189pp. Invitingly titled, it is truly one for everyone to read because it is science-based and easily understandable.

Earle’s rationale is crystal clear. ‘It is no exaggeration to call anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change the most serious problem that humans ever faced’, (p. xvi). Yes, the current climate crisis is affecting everything and everybody. So, we must all cooperate immediately to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and restore the devastated natural environment.

He suggests specific actions we should all take such as avoiding flying, using green-sourced electricity, not eating methane-causing beef, and ending most land-clearing. I would add discussion with others in one of your groups. For example, one of my discussion groups is the retirement village where I live.

It is important that we all to keep up to date about recent worrying climate aspects. One is the scandal of ineffective Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in our Safeguard Mechanism scheme. And another is the massive energy waste in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Stay tuned for the latest from experts on both.

Rethinking Our World: an invitation to rescue our future

Review by Barbara Fraser

The very title of German social scientist Maja Gopel’s new book is delightful and appealing, Rethinking Our World: an invitation to rescue our future (2023). Her basic aim is for ‘a sustainable future for us all’ (p. 10).

Maya Gopel is concerned about the increasing human population and our over-consumption of the planet’s resources. But she leaves the solution to that for us to ponder. She also urges natural environmental actions such as pollination by bees and not by humans and machines. We need clean energy and not the fossil fuel emissions in our atmosphere where they wreck our climate. Her book is easy to read and should lead to keen discussions with family and/or friends.

The world’s climate emergency is worsening. Top climate scientist James Hansen reports that the 1.5° Paris agreed limit has been reached. He is becoming exasperated especially with the denials and persistence of the fossil fuel industry and calls them fools.

This year our federal government must develop the most effective policies for the climate transition. We need the public to know and understand the problem and solutions. Reading, discussion and caring will help.

Humanity’s Moment- A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope

Review by Barbara Fraser

All living beings are now entering the new epoch of the Anthropocene, which is replacing the generally benign 11700-year Holocene. This means that the planet’s natural systems are being dominated by humankind’s burning of fossil fuels (causing deadly emissions), plus land clearing (removing carbon-absorbing plants). Now it is up to us all to reverse those two main causes to mostly renewable energy, and restoration of nature.

Easier said than done, of course. But humans should stay focused on coping fast, for decades, with all the terrible consequences of high heat and costs; and look forward to a healthier, safer future with benefits for all.

One of the most helpful recent books for understanding the whole problem is Joelle Gergis’ Humanity’s Moment- A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope (2022). Best to read and discuss it with a few other people. Try to think and feel hopeful with Gergis that, if humans can cooperate fast enough with climate action, this may well result in eventually being ‘humanity’s finest moment’ (p.281). Just imagine, how exciting and wonderful that would be.

Climate Changers (2023): a film review

Review by Barbara Fraser

Climate Changers, the documentary film by scientist Tim Flannery, screened on 17 September in 20 cinemas across Australia. It opens with Flannery enjoying the beautiful environment of the Hawkesbury River in NSW. But he mourns the disappearance of wildlife such as wallabies.

He is searching for effective climate change leaders with positive views and solutions. He interviews many including his partner, Malcolm Turnbull, Matt Kean, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Saul Griffith, Andrew Forrest, and leaders from West Papua, Solomons, Torres Straits. Plus others whom he meets when in Glasgow at the COP26 in 2021. Interestingly, he praised the Papuan leadership as best.

Saul Griffiths, engineer and entrepreneur, is also on the lively Panel of four which follows the film. They are Flannery, Kavita Naidu from Fiji, and moderator Yael Stone. Griffith is outstanding. He said that no country is undertaking the massive, wartime effort needed for climate action; and he urged Australia to rapidly lead the world on that, starting at COP28 in Dubai in November. Naidu emphasised the environmental aspect of the Yes vote on the Indigenous Voice.

Flannery concluded that every person must help with averting the energy-climate danger. Flannery himself is so committed and sincere, a great example of just what one person can do about the deadly global climate emergency.

Willsmere and Kew Cottages: a novel and a history

Tara Calaby, ‘House of Longing: Broken by grief, Bound by love’.

Text Publishing, 2023, 404 pages

Review by Kevin Bain

This is a delightful historical romance set in 1890s Melbourne, and largely in the Kew Asylum, now the Willsmere residential estate, near Princess St, Kew.

It’s all about Charlotte, who lives a sheltered life in her father’s stationery shop in Elizabeth Street. After tragedy and disappointment in love, she is sent to the asylum ‘for her own safety’.

The publisher’s blurb takes up the story.

There she learns that women enter the big white house on the hill for many reasons, not all of them to do with lunacy. That her capacity for love, loyalty and friendship is greater than she had ever understood. And that it will take all of these things — along with an unexpected talent for guile — to extract herself from the care of men and make her way back to her heart’s desires.

It’s the debut novel of Tara Calaby, who’s researching the social worlds of women of that time and place. To find out more about the author and the book go here. You can read more about the period and the Kew Asylum in the article  by Professor Catherine Colbourne  linked here.

Failed Ambitions: Kew Cottages and Changing Ideas of Intellectual Disabilities

Lee-Ann Monk, David Henderson, Christine Bigby, Richard Broome and Katie Holmes

Monash University Publishing, 2023, 357 pages

Review by Kevin Bain

A La Trobe University team has recorded the 121-year history of Kew Cottages up to its closure in 2007, with a Foreword by Disability Royal Commissioner Ronald Sackville. He notes the book’s importance in understanding the past, as the NDIS promises a better future for people with disability — high aspirations to meet self-defined needs, and a welcoming community. Yet the book’s Epilogue suggests that people with intellectual disabilities may find their needs met ‘poorly’. Why?

Looking back, the authors found little expression of ‘voice’ by clients/patients about their needs and wishes for a better life; medicos, politicians, media and Kew ratepayers were louder. Change emerged from 1970s human rights-based thinking from thought leaders such as Wolf Wolfensberger (see link below) and the UN. Self-advocacy and parent participation also increased from the 1980s. The medical model of disability lost favour to the social model, officially in Victoria with the Intellectually Disabled Persons Services Act 1986, later enhanced by the NDIS person-centred themes.

The NDIS brought generic legislation to replace the IDPS Act, and new objections: that a reduced ‘voice’ from those with intellectual disabilities would result from their absorption into the larger group of people with other disabilities. As funding support based on the client’s functional capacity implied less interest in diagnosis, there would be preventative and forward planning limitations. There remain debates about this, and the authors hope for a ‘critical realist approach…whereby society treats people with intellectual disabilities as members of the broader disability group… but protects (differentiation)…whenever necessary’.

Importantly, there were unfulfilled promises by government after the Kew Cottages closure. One was the abandonment of a community centre at the redeveloped site (which also means no shops of any sort), and second was reneging on the promised relocation of the hundred former residents, currently located on a corner of the site, to be dispersed throughout the re-developed area. Perpetuating this enclave undermined the original plan for developing friendships and social integration (the major rationale for the project). It may be that the commercial operator’s reluctance to meet obligations was the cause, but government accommodated it. Without community connection, the likely outcome for many of these local ex-Kew Cottages residents when their parents die is relocation to new institutions — aged residential care, where an enabling culture is less likely than in the disability sector.

There are familiar names and places here: normalisation advocate Ethel Temby and social worker Irina Higgins, Kew Cottages Parents Association advocates Geoff Welchman and Rosalie Trower, institutional leaders such as Dr Eric Dax and Dr Wilfred Brady, and the 9 men who died, locked in rooms without sprinklers during the 1996 fire.

Kevin Bain was funded by the Gunnar and Rosemary Dybwad Foundation to visit the US in 1998 to research residential models for severely disabled children, resulting in a Medical Journal of Australia article at

Suffering Redemption and Triumph: The first wave of postwar Australian immigrants

Peter Brune, Big Sky Publishing, 2023

Review by Kevin Bain

Peter Brune has published the oral histories of about 40 immigrants who came in the immediate post-World War 2 period. He includes their war histories and their complicated politics, ideologies, and events, and reports their experiences of Australian policies up to 2001.

Brune evaluates  Australia’s “nation-building” objectives, no less full of contradictions and complications. These included war criminals for their benefit in the coming Cold War, yet political leaders like Calwell and Holt defused anti-Semitism by the political arts of deception, blackmail, compromise and manoeuvering. Also, financially assisted passages from the Australian government were significantly less for Italians, Cypriots and Greeks, compared to British and German migrants.

He raises one of the, big human dilemmas: ‘Perhaps the most critical, ethical conundrum of the Holocaust: how can one be moral or virtuous when one is under duress?’  The book is fair-minded and empathetic towards its subjects, is elegantly written and edited, and a delight to read.

To read a more detailed version of this review, go here.

How to Fix a Broken Planet – Advice for Surviving the 21st Century

Julian Cribb. Cambridge University Press, January 2023

Review by Barbara Fraser

Our highly honoured science writer and grandparent Julian Cribb has written a comprehensive short book, How to Fix a Broken Planet- Advice for Surviving the 21st Century (2023). He commences with a horrifying scene in ancient South Africa, then he details its scientific basis and proof.

Cribb then lists each of ten major catastrophic dangers facing our planet. Each is presented with its scientific basis, then global solutions, plus ways in which individuals can help. The ten are based on these global concerns: nuclear weapons, climate crisis, waste, pandemics, environment, food, overpopulation, technology, disinformation, a new currency.

His action plan, titled Earth System Treaty, needs to be discussed and approved by our government. Then it should be made legal, and sent to the UN for sharing and consideration for agreement by the world’s countries.

Cribb concludes his passionate work by commenting that if humanity can do all this, ‘It will be the greatest thing our species has ever done’ (p.x). Tragically, he is correct because the world is in a terrible mess, it is our combined fault, and we must fix it fast.