The Earth's climate has been dramatically shifting since life evolved. The Emerald Planet reveals the crucial role that plants have played in driving and recording climatic change. 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 preoccupations with dinosaur bones and animal fossils. The Emerald Planet provides an important new perspective on the controversial and crucial subject of global warming – for we can only fully understand climate change today by looking into the distant past, long before the rise of humankind.
David Beerling's new conclusion is that we should recognize how plants can offer us a deeper insight into our planet's history than ever before. It emerges from his engaging and accessible synthesis of a wide variety scientific research, with different strands of evidence being drawn from studies of fossil plants and animals, experiments and computer models of the climate system and chemistry of the atmosphere. As the narrative describing the dynamic evolution of climate and life through Earth's history unfolds, he opens a window on the adventures and conflicts of the Victorian fossil hunters, intrepid polar explorers and pioneering chemists.
"If I can find a fault with this book it is that each subsequent chapter is so engrossing that it drives the author's previous deliberations from my head [...] I will return to this book again and again."
– Lyn Dunachie, Glasgow Natural History Society
"David Beerling's book is both fascinating and important [...] An illuminating account of the ways "greenhouse gases, genes, and geochemistry" are linked."
– P D Smith, The Guardian
"My favourite non-fiction book this year [...] [a] highly readable history of the last half-billion years on earth"
– Oliver Sacks, Observer Books of the Year
"David Beerling tells two stories in parallel. Both are eloquently and engagingly merged in a scholarly, yet generally accessible book [...] Beerling provides for the reader a fascinating history of the discovery of fossils and the inferences drawn from them [...] this book is a wonderful example of the nascent field of Earth systems science."
– Paul Falkowski, Nature
" [...] of great value and relevance to all interested in plants, climate and, equally, the future of our 'emerald planet'."
– John MacLeod, RHS Professor of Horticulture, Garden
"David Beerling's fascinating new book offers a new global perspective on the evolution of our planet [...] [a] vivid account [...] The environmental legacy of the plant kingdom upon our world can only be better appreciated after reading this book."
– Louis Ronse De Craene
"A beautifully detailed account [...] a gorgeous book."
– Steven Poole, The Guardian (Review)
"[A] fascinating overview of green evolution." – Karl Dallas, Morning Star
"Within these pages is one of the greatest stories ever told [...] It is as fascinating as it is important."
– New Scientist
"The Emerald Planet is a serious talking-to about why plants must not be ignored."
– Jonathan Silvertown, TLS
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
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David Beerling is Professor of Palaeoclimatology at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences University of Sheffield. Before this he held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, where his work on the evolution of life and the physical environment was recognized by the award of a prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in earth sciences (2001). He has published over 100 papers in international scientific journals and is co-author of Vegetation and the Global Carbon Cycle: Modelling the First 400 Million Years.