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Showing 1-10 of 11 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 15 reviews
on October 10, 2012
For me The Emerald Planet contained all the elements necessary for a good science book. One, it was written by a working scientist: Paleoclimatologist David Beerling who has published papers in some leading scientific journals as well as another book on this same general subject (but that one is priced way out of my budget). I found his writing to be readily accessible to the interested layman. Botany and its effect on the climate are the main theme but Beerling also touches on several other scientific disciplines that relate to the issue: physics, chemistry, paleontology, geology, etc.. He also delves into the history of this study, referring to numerous other scientist and discoveries made over past years. The book itself starts out with , of all things, the Galileo spacecraft that, on its way to Jupiter, needed a little help in the form of some slingshots around Earth and Venus. While passing Earth the spacecraft was able to scan the atmosphere as a test to see if our probes could detect life. The test was successful and led to some important discoveries about our climate. The author goes on to talk about plant evolution, how small leafless plants first invaded land and, when environmental conditions were just right, went on to develop leaves. It turns out that the chemical make up of the atmosphere ( carbon dioxide ) played a major role in that development. So, basically, we have a feedback system in place; things like carbon dioxide and oxygen, among others, enable plants and animals to live and develop while life itself gives those things back to the environment in a never ending "circle of life". I think anyone interested in botany, evolution or natural history and science in general might find this book to be a good read. I read this book on my Kindle and had no technical problems with this edition. However I did find an anomaly that may not set well with some readers. The book has numerous line drawings and charts that show up well on the Kindle ( in the text look for: "see fig xx", you click on it and the Kindle takes you right to fig xx). The hard bound edition also has several black & white "plates" but these are not on the Kindle edition even though they are listed in the table of contents and through out the text ( see plate xx) but you click on it and it goes nowhere. Other than that I'm more than satisfied with this purchase and the fact of missing plates does not diminish the text in any way.
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on May 15, 2009
This was one of the best books I read this year. It is superbly written, and makes paleobotany come to life with vividly historical details such as how the Victorian obsession with specimen collection handily provided a data-mine for scientists who are trying to understand how CO2 levels interact with homeobox genes for stomata. It also combines a rich story of geological events with plant evolution and provides one of the best overviews of how CO2 levels affect climate. While it is largely devoid of climate alarmism, you will think about the effect of mass extinction of plant life on our climate long after you put the book down.
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on June 5, 2012
Great book if you are interested in how climate has varied in the past and how that may have been mediated by plants through time. The author does a great job covering his basis and the book cites credible sources throughout so you know that this is simply not just an opinion piece. Overall the author made this topic interesting and provided a smooth flow information in a logical manner.
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on September 22, 2015
very pleased
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on December 26, 2016
Great, fast, thanks!
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on December 15, 2008
I found this book pretty remarkable. I had
no idea the powerful impact plant life
had on the development of our planet. I
want to emphasize the word "powerful!"
If you are a newby to the subject as I
was I think you will be blown away by
what you learn. I highly recommend this
book for those interested in getting a very
different view of the planet's evolution.
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on May 5, 2010
The emerald Planet by D. J. Beerling approchaes several subjects realted to climatic change, geology and earth processes from an original standpoint of plants and its evolution. Mainly it argues plants are not only pasive spectators of time but did play and are still playing a very active role in shaping the earth history as well as its past and present climate.
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Paleoclimatologists are having quite a run. Projections of what the climate will be in the future are based on our understanding of what it has been in the past, and even more importantly, why it has been what it has been.

Beerling's specialty is the evolution of plants. Plant evolution has always been a topic of much less interest than animal evolution. However, quite obviously, they evolved together. Here is the story in a nutshell:

The first forms of life came into being in the Earth's first billion years, exploiting sources of energy from chemicals already present in the earth. Cyanobacteria developed the ability to perform photosynthesis about 3 billion years ago. It was an easy task in that CO2 was 100 times more abundant than today. One celled plants formed the basis of the marine food chain.

Multicell organisms appeared in the animal and plant kingdoms between 600 and 500 million years ago. Among plants it was simple algaes, Animals developed complexity a bit earlier, as well as a deeper food chain. Carnivorous organisms and scavengers could feed off the primary consumers of plants.

Vascular plants colonized dry land about 425 million years ago. The oldest appears to be one called Cooksonia, descended from freshwater green algae. It consisted of nothing but a vertical stem that could cling to a rock. Good enough; the atmosphere was still rich in CO2. In fact, Beerling hypothesizes, so rich that a plant could not have exploited leaves even had they evolved. Leaves took something like 50 million years to evolve, slow by evolutionary standards. He conjectures that a decrease in CO2 levels, among other things, was needed to encourage their development.

Leaves led quickly to ferns and horsetails, then to conifers. Flowering plants took another 200 million years, until about 140 million years ago. The most efficient photosynthesizers, C4 grasses, became widespread only about 8 million years ago.

That is the broadest overview. Beerling's thesis is that throughout the whole period of their existence plants have both reacted and contributed greatly to changes in the atmosphere. Though CO2 is a major gas, he also speaks to methane, nitrous oxide (family of 7 gases), sulfur, ozone and oxygen itself.

Here are brief notes on Beerling's chapters

2. Leaves, genes, and greenhouse gases

Leaves perform several functions. First they have to be strong enough to hold up and to face the sun. Second is photosynthesis. A third is respiration – give off oxygen, dissipate heat. Their size, shape, thickness and the number of stomata (pores) adapts to fit their environment. Plant genetics are such that they are primed to respond quickly. The rise in CO2 levels from 280 to 400 ppm over the past 200 years has resulted in dramatic changes in leaf structure and the geographic distribution of plant species.

3. Oxygen and the lost world of giants

A question of aerodynamics: how did those two foot long dragonflies stay airborne? How did they get enough oxygen to keep their motors running? Beerling's answer: there was much more oxygen in the air. It rose from 20% to 35% of the atmosphere. Air pressure increased. Denser air made flying slower, but it was easier to stay aloft. And, of course, easier to breathe enough oxygen, even with organs much less efficient than lungs, to generate the requisite metabolic energy.

Big bugs are just one of many intriguing pieces of evidence that Beerling says have to be fit together into a coherent argument. One of the endearing qualities of the book is his appreciation of paradox and modesty. There are so many things they just don't know. So many competing theories.

4. An ancient ozone catastrophe?

Revisiting the earth's five major mass extinctions. How ozone protects us. Destroy the ozone and pollen ceases to split cleanly into separate particles, rendering plants unable to reproduce. Evidence from ancient forests, Chernobyl and Patagonia under the 1980s ozone depletion is compatible.

5. Global warming ushers in the dinosaur era

Atmospheric conditions brought about the lush forests of the Carboniferous, then the hotter, dryer world of the dinosaurs.

6. The flourishing forests of Antarctica

The Eocene, 50 million years ago, was warmer overall and much warmer at the poles. The climate models do not show how it could have happened through CO2 alone. However, CO2 triggering other mechanisms, such as release of methane cathrates, the decrease of snow cover, increased water vapor and such might explain it. Again, many competing theories.

7. Paradise lost

The cooling of the earth after the Eocene, and the advent of ice ages. What happened.

8. Nature’s green revolution

The first chemical reaction in photosynthesis generates a three carbon chain, C3, which is subsequently transformed into plant sugars via a few more reactions. Just in the last few million years a number of plants, mainly grasses, have emerged that employ physical structures and enhanced reactions to produce a four carbon chain. They can capture more of the sun's energy, and hence outcompete C3 plants when other factors such as temperature, soil and atmosphere are favorable.

Fire plays a major role in the ecology of grasslands. It clears the forests, making the landscape even more favorable for grasses.

9. Through a glass darkly

Beerling knows the history of science, the theories and the personalities, exceptionally well. He does a masterful job of quoting great men on the subject of what they know, what they think they know, and how human knowledge advances through the interplay of their ideas, experiments, technology and good luck.

The take home from this book is that climate is and always has been very dynamic. There are many theories, not all of which can be correct. However, we do know for sure that an increase of greenhouse gases (CO2 up by a third, methane doubling, nitrous oxide going up significantly) has led in the past to significant climate changes. Also, changes in cloud cover, water vapor, and particulate matter change things measurably.

Mankind would be well advised to discontinue, to the extent possible, making changes to the atmosphere. While Beerling nowhere evidences the zealot's religious conviction that CO2 is evil and that we are doomed (per Al Gore) to drown ourselves in rising seas, he makes a strong case that we should cease from making wholesale changes to a system we so patently do not understand.

NB: I did not find what I was looking for when I bought the book, a timeline to compare the evolution of plants with that of animals. Such as, when did magnolias and oaks show up vs. stegosaurus' and apatosaurus. Not what I expected, but a treat nonetheless.
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on December 7, 2015
Good topical book covering the influence of plants on Earth's climactic history. It's a topical book because of present concerns about global warming and the basic history of atmospheric composition changes over the Earth's history.
But I must agree with the other reviewers that point out the irritating overbearing pro-British slant of the book. When discussing ancient plant life in Antarctica, it went off on tangent defending Scott's assault on the South Pole at one point, and a later discussion of the role of C14 and photosynthsis, crediting Cockroft and Walton with splitting the atom in 1932 when nuclear fission was actually done by Fermi at the University of Chicago in 1934. This book continues a trend I have seen in other popular science books by British authors having all contributions by any Briton in any form to be amplified, and any achievement by any other nationals (especially Americans) be downgraded, ignored or explained away. It makes you wonder if you are really getting the true story.
A good book on a fascinating subject, if you can only ignore the bias...
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on March 14, 2013
David Beerling is obviously a highly regarded scientist and this well researched book is evidence of his abilities. The book is well written and quite easy to read. I'm a geologist, more or less in an adjacent field to Mr Beerling so it was with special interest I purchased this book. It does give plenty of facts about plants and climate and how these have changed over time. I would recommend this but ... and I bet you knew there was a but ... there are some things that kept annoying me throughout the reading.

I can't stress enough that this does seem to be a well research book (though with some errors - see below). But there wasn't a chapter in the book where Mr Beerling's bias for anything British didn't leak through. I'm sorry, but Scott wasn't the first to the south pole, why try and make it as if really his journey was more legitimate than Amundsen's? There are numerous examples of this but the only other one I'll cite is his assessment of Marie Stopes. It is well recognised that she was a pioneer in coal science and women reproductive education but only Mr Beerling makes a wild statement about her poetry being well regarded; Although a great person in her own right, poetry was not her strong suit. In the words of 'Meatloaf' though: two out of three ain't bad - so why the need to make all things British be spectacular? It takes away from what are the great things that have come from the small isle.

One of the most annoying aspects of the book, however, was when Mr Beerling was citing his own work. I could always tell when it was his work he was referring to as there seemed to be special praise and a long build up to why these "UK group of scientists ... " did this or did that. It was all a bit too disingenuous and subtracted from the credibility of the book as a piece of scientific work. It leaves question marks over the other conclusions which are given in the book. In the end, I felt Mr Beerling was pushing an agenda and selecting research that would favor his point of view. There definitely was a feeling that Mr Beerling had a 'who's in and who's out' list of researchers.

There were some factual errors, which I won't go into here and only cite one. Methanogens don't break down organic matter to make methane. The actual process is that bacteria breaks down the organic material into CO2 or a few other substances and then methanogens convert those products into methane. If this relatively well established process is incorrect how many other details has Mr Beerling gotten wrong?

I'd suggest to others that the book Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (Popular Science) by Nick Lane is much better written, more objective, less self pandering and ultimately more credible and digestible than Mr Beerling's book. Finally, if you are looking for a book on plant evolution and how climate and plants really interact (and one that presents data and doesn't seem to be pushing an agenda) please get the book The Evolution of Plants by K.J. Willis and J.C. McElwain. Although Willis' and McElwain's excellent book is a text book it is ultimately more satisfying than 'The Emerald Planet'.
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