Books

Scott Ludlam
Full Circle: a search for the world that comes next

Those wanting a straightforward reflection on a life in green politics at the tipping point of the Anthropocene may not find what they are looking for in Full Circle: a search for the world that comes next, the authorial debut from former Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam.

While Full Circle sits well beside considerations of contemporary political and environmental realities such as Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers or Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists, its anecdotal structure and at times almost magic realist tone have much in common with Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark or even Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Given how Ludlam merges the discursive and the immersive, it also recalls David Holmgren’s RetroSuburbia and, perhaps oddly, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. Ludlam fuses together conversational, professorial and imaginative approaches, writing in a calm, friendly and determined way, with notes of despair and anger lurking below the surface. He’s funny and likeable, too, a deft wielder of gallows humour and self-deprecation.

The scope of Full Circle is ambitious. Stories of international grassroots environmental resistance are interwoven with academic theories about economics, social movements and the rise of neoliberalism. These ideas are accompanied by stories from Ludlam’s personal experience of the catastrophic 2019 bushfires in New South Wales. Interspersed throughout is a poetic imagining of the birth of life on Earth, ominously charting multiple mass extinctions along the way, beginning with the formation of our sun and running from the emergence of precellular entities to the evolution of the human species.

In theory, combining this range of styles with such breadth of information might seem hubristic, but in execution Ludlam proves himself as capable with metaphor and magic realism as he is with history and political theory.

His prose has the tenacity of poetry and the rigour of an infographic. This tempers his considerations of highly theoretical concepts such as Sankey diagrams, panarchy, captured states and power laws, giving the reader unfamiliar with these ideas a meaningful and tangible introduction to many of the invisible forces, natural and man-made, that underlie humanity’s current circumstances and those of the planet to which we cling.

Ludlam shows that the tools, the ideas, the models and the will to alter the status quo and save the planet from capitalism’s excesses and the climate catastrophe already exist – they just need to be joined together in a single global network of determination and action.

Full Circle is a thought experiment, an attempt at explanation and an offer of reassurance, but above all it is an urgent call to arms. As Ludlam himself says, “Enough prefiguring. Whatever your idea is, do it now.” 

Black Inc, 384pp, $34.99

Black Inc is a Schwartz company

Adam Ford

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 8, 2021 as "Scott Ludlam, Full Circle: a search for the world that comes next".

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Reviewer: Adam Ford