The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History

The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History

Paperback

By (author) David Beerling

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 312 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 25mm | 337g
  • Publication date: 30 November 2008
  • Publication City/Country: Oxford
  • ISBN 10: 0199548145
  • ISBN 13: 9780199548149
  • Illustrations note: 13 line diagrams, and 8pp B&W plate section
  • Sales rank: 69,185

Product description

Plants have profoundly moulded the Earth's climate and the evolutionary trajectory of life. Far from being 'silent witnesses to the passage of time', plants are dynamic components of our world, shaping the environment throughout history as much as that environment has shaped them. In The Emerald Planet, David Beerling puts plants centre stage, revealing the crucial role they have played in driving global changes in the environment, in recording hidden facets of Earth's history, and in helping us to predict its future. His account draws together evidence from fossil plants, from experiments with their living counterparts, and from computer models of the 'Earth System', to illuminate the history of our planet and its biodiversity. This new approach reveals how plummeting carbon dioxide levels removed a barrier to the evolution of the leaf; how plants played a starring role in pushing oxygen levels upwards, allowing spectacular giant insects to thrive in the Carboniferous; and it strengthens fascinating and contentious fossil evidence for an ancient hole in the ozone layer. Along the way, Beerling introduces a lively cast of pioneering scientists from Victorian times onwards whose discoveries provided the crucial background to these and the other puzzles. This new understanding of our planet's past sheds a sobering light on our own climate-changing activities, and offers clues to what our climatic and ecological futures might look like. There could be no more important time to take a close look at plants, and to understand the history of the world through the stories they tell.

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Author information

David Beerling is Professor of Palaeoclimatology at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences University of Sheffield. Before this he held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, where his work on the evolution of life and the physical environment was recognized by the award of a prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in earth sciences (2001). He has published over 100 papers in international scientific journals and is co-author of Vegetation and the Global Carbon Cycle: Modelling the first 400 million years (CUP, 2001).

Review quote

Review from previous edition My favorite nonfiction book this year. A minutely-argued but highly readable history of the last half-billion years on earth. The story Beerling tells could not have been put together even ten years ago, for it depends upon the latest insights from palaeontology, climate science, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry, all brilliantly and beautifully integrated together. I got a special deep, quiet pleasure from reading The Emerald Planet -the sort of pleasure one gets from reading Darwin. Oliver Sacks, Book of the Year, Observer Within these pages is one of the greatest stories ever told: the story of the way plants have shaped out planet and how they will shape its future as the climate changes more rapidly than ever before. It is as fascinating as it is important. Stephanie Pain, New Scientist A beautifully detailed account of the puzzles of reconstructing Earths climatic history...a gorgeous book about plants and the fantastically complex way they can be used to deduce past climatic events. Steven Poole, The Guardian David Beerling tells two stories in parallel. Both are eloquently and engagingly merged in a scholarly, yet generally accessible book...Beerling provides for the reader a fascinating history of the discovery of fossils and the inferences drawn from them...this book is a wonderful example of the nascent field of Earth systems science. Paul Falkowski, Nature Here at last is David Beerling as the Green Knight, revealing the extraordinary story of the construction of our emerald planet. Rigorous science joins hands with an enthusiastic delivery to re-awaken our fascination in plants, while engaging anecdotes provide a thrilling background to an extraordinary story of climate change and our current environmental crisis. Professor Simon Conway-Morris, author of Lifes Solution, University of Cambridge A fascinating, ambitious and well-written book [on] how the pursuit of plants promises to unlock greater riches from their fossil record ... a fresh form of critical analysis on some of the major issues of Earths history. Beerling makes a compelling case for the power of plants and for research on living systems as a way of unlocking the potential of the fossil record. Paul Kenrick, Natural History Museum, London David Beerlings fascinating new book offers a new global perspective on the evolution of our planet...[a] vivid account...The environmental legacy of the plant kingdom upon our world can only be better appreciated after reading this book. Louis Ronse De Craene, Book of the Month, Geographical Beerling uses evidence from the plant fossil record to reconstruct past climates and to help explain mass extinctions. Too often this evidence has been disregarded, but Beerling gives it its due, and then some. [he] introduces us to the scientists of the past and their contributions to todays hypotheses ... and successfully conveys the incremental nature of science and that new hypotheses often emerge from a combination of observations and syntheses of previous work. Pamela Soltis, Florida Museum of Natural History Beerling gives us the big picture of how plants have changed our planet - and poses the key question of how we will manage the emerald planet to ensure the kind of future we desire. Professor Sir Peter Crane, University of Chicago The Emerald Planet is a serious talking to about why plants must not be ignored. Everyone should appreciate this ... and also know, Beerling argues, how plants fit into the global picture. Jonathan Silvertown, Times Literary Supplement [A] fascinating overview of green evolution. Karl Dallas, Morning Star David Beerling is to be congratulated on producing a highly readable account of an underappreciated aspect of Earth history - the role of plants in shaping todays planet, and our views of it. Palaeobotany has probably never been so topical. Nigel Chaffey, Annals of Botany Refreshingly novel... a thought-provoking book... by better understanding the role of that plants played during extreme episodes in Earth history we are better equipped to understand the changes that might occur in response to global warming. Howard Falcon-Lang, University of Bristol

Table of contents

Preface ; 1. Introduction ; 2. Leaves, genes and greenhouse gases ; 3. Oxygen and the lost world of giants ; 4. An ancient ozone catastrophe? ; 5. Global warming ushers in the dinosaur era ; 6. The flourishing forests of Antarctica ; 7. Paradise lost ; 8. Nature's green revolution ; 9. Through a glass darkly ; Notes ; Index