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Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future Hardcover – April 17, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Popular science writer and paleontologist Ward presents breaking news about the link between past mass extinctions and global warming. Disarmingly engaging, Ward combines tales of his own punishing fieldwork with a piquant history of the controversies that have dogged scientists seeking the cause of the "mother of all extinctions" in the Permian period. This provides the foundation for a stunning discovery: evidence of past greenhouse extinctions. As Ward carefully parses the data and its implications, he observes, "the key to climate change seems to be both the level and the rate at which carbon dioxide rises in the atmosphere," no matter its source. Ward also illuminates the symbiosis between ocean currents and climate change, then explains why, as the northern ice cap melts, it is likely that the Atlantic conveyor current system will be altered, thus accelerating climate change. Ward asserts that humankind has flourished during a remarkable period of climatic stability and notes how tragic it will be if our carbon habit brings this boon to a catastrophic end. An important addition to the necessary literature of global warming. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


For RARE EARTH:“A stellar example of clear writing . . .” (American Scientist)

“A sobering and valuable perspective . . .” (Science)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006113791X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061137914
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Flygore and others have dispassionately summarized Under A Green Sky. Pardon me if I don't repeat their efforts. The significant theses which Peter Ward presents are: 1. geologically rapid climate change has been the underlying cause of most great "extinction" events. Those events have been, as S Gould hypothesized, major drivers of evolution.2. drastic climate change has not always been gradual; there is good empirical evidence of catastrophic warming events taking place in centuries, perhaps even decades. 3. the impact of atmospheric warming is most potent in its modification of ocean chemistry and of circulating currents; warming inevitably leads to non-mixing anoxic dead seas. 4. we are already in the middle, not the beginning, of an anthropogenic global warming, caused by agriculture and deforestation, which began some 10,000 years ago but which is now accelerating exponentially; though the earliest wave of anthropogenic warming has been stabilizing and beneficial to human development (civilization), it appears to have the potential for catastrophic effects within a lifetime or two.

Mr. Ward's other recent book, Out Of Thin Air, makes the case for changes in atmospheric chemistry being a major driver of evolution at the level of family and even order. This book recapitulates some of that hypothesis and the evidence to support it. I can hardly imagine that you will want to read one without wanting to read the other. This book is the friendlier to the non-scientist, made readable by an anecdotal science-adventure framework. In short, it's a pleasure to read... until you catch the spoor of Ward's dire predictions for our common future.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mass extinctions periodically reshape life on Earth. The best known, the Cretaceous - Tertiary (K-T) boundary, ended the reign of the non-avian dinosaurs approximately 65 MYA when an asteroid roughly 10 kilometers wide gouged the Chicxulub crater near the Yucatan Peninsula, setting the stage for mammals, including Homo sapiens, to become the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Another extinction event, the Permian - Triassic (P-Tr), some 251 MYA, is informally known as 'the Great Dying.' Up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial species were erased as global ecosystems crumbled. Life itself nearly died - and Peter Ward makes a compelling case in "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future" that global warming was the primary culprit.

The occurrence of mass extinction events is not open to debate - the data is in the strata - available to any researcher diligent enough to decode the physical evidence. Unlike some global warming books "Under a Green Sky" carefully examines the fossil and climate record to justify models and simulations designed to predict future events. Ward, a paleontology professor at the University of Washington, and a NASA staff astrobiologist, invokes runaway global warming as the primary driver of the P-Tr extinction - and convincingly demonstrates that an anthropogenic (human-caused) encore is the obscene outcome of business as usual energy policies.

"Under a Green Sky" recounts how scientists examine mass extinctions and determine plausible causes based on paleontological and geological evidence.
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Format: Hardcover
Global warming, contrary to some, is pretty much a done deal, at least with a 90% certainty. Yes, there is a 10% possibility that it is not happening, or that humans are not the main cause, but who wants to bet on 9 to 1 odds, especially when there is a high chance of catastrophe?

It amazes me that there are still some people who deny that the process is occurring or that it is to a large extent human caused. Some go so far as to ascribe the whole idea to a secret plan to increase the use of nuclear power! But the evidence for global warming keeps piling up, despite their views. As a biologist I have observed the creep ahead of the seasons even in the temperate zone, and the Arctic is having an even more marked change. Numerous studies have linked the rise in temperature primarily to human carbon dioxide production.

Peter D. Ward is a professor of biology and earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. While studying the mass extinctions of the past, especially the Permian-Triassic, the Triassic-Jurassic and the Paleocene-Eocene, he and his associates have turned up an even greater threat of global warming- the release of toxic gases from the oceans.

In "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What they Can Tell Us About Our Future" Ward outlines the causes of these major extinctions. Once thought to all have occurred because of asteroid strikes, these extinctions were quite different from the Cretaceous-Paleocene event, which apparently was triggered by such a cosmic calamity.
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