Phosphorus is essential to the production of our food, and it also triggers algal blooms in lakes, rivers, and oceans when it slips through our hands. An understanding of this essential resource and how we have used and misused it over the years is crucial to the sustainability of our well-being on our planet. In this book, world authorities on phosphorus sustainability Jim Elser and Phil Haygarth explain this element's involvement in biology, human health and nutrition, food production, ecosystem function, and environmental sustainability.
Phosphorus: Past and Future chronicles the sustainability challenges phosphorus both poses and solves in various contexts. The book begins with its discovery over 350 years ago, moving to its basic chemistry and the essential role it plays in all living things on Earth. Chapters go on to explain the rise in the usage of phosphorus in agriculture and how the increase in the mining of rock phosphate in the mid-20th century was essential for the Green Revolution. However, phosphorus emissions from human wastes and detergents triggered widespread algal blooms in the 1960s and 1970s. While such emissions have been brought under better control with wastewater treatment, diffuse emissions from farming continue to cause water quality degradation. The authors explain how these diffuse phosphorus emissions may worsen with climate change.
In ten concise chapters, Elser and Haygarth offer engaging explanations of our historical use and abuse of phosphorus, including the phosphorus sustainability movement and new efforts to sustain food benefits of limited rock reserves following the phosphate rock price shock in 2007-2008. Highlighting new approaches for phosphorus, the two "Systems Innovators" turn toward the emerging set of sustainable phosphorus solutions necessary to achieve a sustainable "phosphoheaven" and avoid "phosphogeddon." The book provides an insider's take on this essential resource and why all of us need to wrestle with the wicked problems this element will cause, illuminate, or eliminate in years to come.
P is for Preface
Chapter 1. Phosphorus Knowing
Chapter 2. Phosphorus Becoming
Chapter 3. Phosphorus Living
Chapter 4. Phosphorus Feeding
Chapter 5. Phosphorus Growing
Chapter 6. Phosphorus Polluting
Chapter 7. Phosphorus Awakening
Chapter 8. Phosphorus Reducing
Chapter 9. Phosphorus Recycling
Chapter 10. Phosphorus Sustaining
Epilogue. Driving to San Diego
Additional Sources and Deeper Reading
Jim Elser is Bierman Professor of Ecology of the University of Montana in the United States and Director of UM's Flathead Lake Biological Station. He also holds a part-time research faculty position in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Trained as a limnologist, Elser is best known for his role in the study of the coupling of chemical elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in living systems.
Phil Haygarth is Professor of Soil and Water Science at the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Trained in geography and soil chemistry, he spent 16 years as a soil scientist at an agricultural research institute (North Wyke, now Rothamsted Research) before he took his professorship at Lancaster. He is known for his studies on phosphorus at the interface of soil and water and how this may be impacted by climate change.
"Jim Elser and Phil Haygarth's book is an optimistic 'Call to Arms' sequel to Emsley's gripping book written two decades ago: The Shocking History of Phosphorus. Elser and Haygarth's book is not just about phosphorus atoms and its cycle: It is about the people and events that led to the discovery, use (as well as abuse) of phosphorus, and the champions of change in the current sustainable phosphorus movement. This element underpins the world we live in – from the food on our table to the atoms in our DNA, so the risks facing the world's fragile phosphorus cycle are relevant to all of us, not just to scientists. Elser and Haygarth are not only brilliant scientists, they are excellent storytellers. Phosphorus needed Jim and Phil to tell the inside story. This really is a book for everyone."
– Dana Cordell, Research Director and Associate Professor, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney
"At a time when environmental concerns are dominated by carbon (above all by its role in global warming), this book is a welcome reminder that the human interference in other biospheric cycles deserves no less attention. Elser and Haygarth's treatment and approach stands out. They offer a systematic and thorough examination of the element in the modern world, of its fundamental importance, its irreplaceable uses, their desired and unwelcome consequences, and the ways to manage them better."
– Vaclav Smil, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and author of Grand Transitions: How the Modern World Was Made
"Who thinks about phosphorus when they dig into a juicy sirloin steak? Elser and Haygarth bring the two together from the beginning of the universe (actually after the Big Bang) to the chunk of red meat on the plate. They skillfully guide the reader through the history of discovery, use, over-use, and need for reduced consumption of phosphorus because there is only so much left on our planet. Doomsday is set aside when they provide alternative human behaviors that reduce our over-consumptive threats to our resources and provide ways for us to make a smaller carbon footprint, a smaller nitrogen footprint, and a smaller phosphorus footprint."
– Nancy Rabalais, Professor and Shell Endowed Chair in Oceanography and Wetland Studies in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University and coeditor of Coastal Hypoxia: Consequences for Living Resources and Ecosystems