Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature

Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature


By (author) Vaclav Smil

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  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Format: Hardback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 180mm x 229mm x 23mm | 680g
  • Publication date: 15 February 2013
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, Mass.
  • ISBN 10: 026201856X
  • ISBN 13: 9780262018562
  • Illustrations note: 16 b&w illus.
  • Sales rank: 192,174

Product description

The biosphere -- the Earth's thin layer of life -- dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere's character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere's stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day. Smil examines all harvests -- from prehistoric man's hunting of megafauna to modern crop production -- and all uses of harvested biomass, including energy, food, and raw materials. Without harvesting of the biomass, Smil points out, there would be no story of human evolution and advancing civilization; but at the same time, the increasing extent and intensity of present-day biomass harvests are changing the very foundations of civilization's well-being. In his detailed and comprehensive account, Smil presents the best possible quantifications of past and current global losses in order to assess the evolution and extent of biomass harvests. Drawing on the latest work in disciplines ranging from anthropology to environmental science, Smil offers a valuable long-term, planet-wide perspective on human-caused environmental change.

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Author information

Vaclav Smil is the author of more than thirty books on energy, the environment, food, and the history of technical advances, including Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature, published by the MIT Press. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

Review quote

There's no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil... In Harvesting the Biosphere, Smil gives us as clear and numeric a picture as is possible of how humans have altered the biosphere. -- Bill Gates The Gates Notes