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Revolutions that Made the Earth


Revolutions that Made the Earth

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    Available in PDF Format | Revolutions that Made the Earth.pdf | English
    Tim Lenton(Author) Andrew Watson(Author)
The Earth that sustains us today was born out of a few remarkable, near-catastrophic revolutions, started by biological innovations and marked by global environmental consequences. The revolutions have certain features in common, such as an increase in the complexity, energy utilization, and information processing capabilities of life. This book describes these revolutions, showing the fundamental interdependence of the evolution of life and its non-living environment. We would not exist unless these upheavals had led eventually to 'successful' outcomes - meaning that after each one, at length, a new stable world emerged.

The current planet-reshaping activities of our species may be the start of another great Earth system revolution, but there is no guarantee that this one will be successful. This book explains what a successful transition through it might look like, if we are wise enough to steer such a course.

This book places humanity in context as part of the Earth system, using a new scientific synthesis to illustrate our debt to the deep past and our potential for the future.

Lenton and Watson have written a remarkable and timely book which is both entertaining and impeccably researched from the beginning I felt both engaged and enlightened... With its academic rigour and, at the same time, its accessibility, the authors have clearly succeeded in their aim of writing scholarly popular science. As such, it should inspire us to learn from how the Earth system has evolved in the past and face up to the final question: Are we as yet sufficiently grown up to take responsibility for a whole planet? One thing is for sure: Over the next century we will find out. (Peter Horton, Chemistry World)Worth close study for anyone with more than a passing interest in the Earth sciences, from geology to climatology, and for anyone curious about why this planet is alive whilst all the other ones we know about are dead. (Mark Lynas)Lenton and Watson's thought-provoking book is the latest in a distinguished line of works that have altered our perception of the planet. (Wolfgang Lucht, Nature)This book is a stimulating read that involves its audience and challenges us to enlarge our awareness of many branches of human knowledge. It embraces the ethical question of how we can overcome our selfish genes to co-operate with our fellow human beings and recognise our symbiotic relationship with the Earth ecosystem that sustains us. (Susan Jappie, A World to Win)An exciting, timely, scholarly, and innovative book. (Tyler Volk, New York University, author of CO² Rising: The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge)[an] interesting and provocative read. (Meric Srokosz, Ocean Challenge)

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  • By Chris ap Alfred on 6 June 2011

    This is a truly great popular science book. I read it initially with interest and then with impatience: a real page turner. My feelings for the authors went from respect to admiration to awe and finally to envy. Fancy putting all that together, strands from so many different scientific disciplines, and all clearly explained and referenced. As a chemist I wa especially taken by the oxidised/reduced senarios, a vision made possible only because the geological timescales are orders of magnitude longer than laboratory experiments. As I read I got a feeling which I've previously had only twice in my 47 year career as a scientist: to write to the authors and ask if I could work with them.I compare this book with the waffly mush currently produced by the likes of Brian Cox. Okay, perhaps the intent and the audience are different, but no account of a scientific subject should forego structure and rigour. And here we have structure and rigour in abundance. Facts are clearly distinguished from theory, hypothesis and conjecture. An exemplary format and quality of science writing.The godfather of the book is of course James Lovelock, who first published the idea that negative feedback systems have kept the planet within habitable limits. The authors describe these systems qualitatively: the technically literate reader would have welcomed more numbers, especially about the amounts of materials involved in the cycling systems of for example nitrogen and phosphorus. They nicely develop concepts about availability of resources, but don't say how many tonnes of carbon need to be buried. For me, it's the numbers which help me grasp what thinking on the planetary scale is all about.Its basic message is that revolutions in the planetary system are sustainable only if they engender appropriate negative feedback systems. The past is excellently described, but if the book has a failing it is in its last two chapters: human society and what next. The proposition that recent human activity constitutes such a revolution is left sort of hanging. More, the examination of current ideas for dealing with the implications of our recent fossil use is a bit disappointing, given the excellent way that the previous 4.5 billion years are described. I would have loved to have seen comments from expert earth scientists about the various deliberate geoengineering hypes which make the papers so regularly. They are right about which energy systems to go for, selecting solar and nuclear for their high energy densities, a choice based on good eveidence. They are on less secure ground in their preferred options for agriculature. The "retreat" strategists are given short shrift, probably fairly for their political naiveté, but failing to do justice to the many ideas that have been developed for practical energy economy and for redefining quality of life. Lovelock influence again, I suspect, with his vision of megacities and megafarms, stirring thoughts of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness.But from the point of view of the earth scientist what is important for a successful human experiment is, first, to use only energy and materials that can be harvested safely, and second, to recycle all waste. The book is a clear and readable statementof how we got here and puts our current problems in a beuatiful long term frame. perfect science. How our species works this out will be politics and engineering.

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