Global warming is contentious and difficult to measure, even among the majority of scientists who agree that it is taking place. Will temperatures rise by 2AC or 8AC over the next hundred years? Will sea levels rise by 2 or 30 feet? The only way that we can accurately answer questions like these is by looking into the distant past, for a comparison with the world long before the rise of mankind.
We may currently believe that atmospheric shifts, like global warming, result from our impact on the planet, but the earth's atmosphere has been dramatically shifting since its creation. This book reveals the crucial role that plants have played in determining atmospheric change - and hence the conditions on the planet we know today. Along the way a number of fascinating puzzles arise: Why did plants evolve leaves? When and how did forests once grow on Antarctica? How did prehistoric insects manage to grow so large? The answers show the extraordinary amount plants can tell us about the history of the planet -- something that has often been overlooked amongst the preoccuputations with dinosaur bones and animal fossils.
David Beerling's surprising conclusions are teased out from various lines of scientific enquiry, with evidence being brought to bear from fossil plants and animals, computer models of the atmosphere, and experimental studies. Intimately bound up with the narrative describing the dynamic evolution of climate and life through Earth's history, we find Victorian fossil hunters, intrepid polar explorers and pioneering chemists, alongside wallowing hippos, belching volcanoes, and restless landmasses.
`Within these pages is one of the greatest stories ever told... It is as fascinating as it is important.'
`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.
Simon Conway Morris (author of Life's Solution)
`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.
Sir Peter Crane (Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1999-2006)
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