Elemental: How Five Elements Changed Earth's Past and Will Shape Our Future (Hardcover)

Elemental: How Five Elements Changed Earth's Past and Will Shape Our Future By Stephen Porder Cover Image
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An ecologist explores how life itself shapes Earth using the elemental constituents we all share

It is rare for life to change Earth, yet three organisms have profoundly transformed our planet over the long course of its history. Elemental reveals how microbes, plants, and people used the fundamental building blocks of life to alter the climate, and with it, the trajectory of life on Earth in the past, present, and future.

Taking readers from the deep geologic past to our current era of human dominance, Stephen Porder focuses on five of life's essential elements--hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. He describes how single-celled cyanobacteria and plants harnessed them to wildly proliferate across the oceans and the land, only to eventually precipitate environmental catastrophes. He then brings us to the present, and shows how these elements underpin the success of human civilization, and how their mismanagement threatens similarly catastrophic unintended consequences. But, Porder argues, if we can learn from our world-changing predecessors, we can construct a more sustainable future.

Blending conversational storytelling with the latest science, Porder takes us deep into the Amazon, across fresh lava flows in Hawaii, and to the cornfields of the American Midwest to illuminate a potential path to sustainability, informed by the constraints imposed by life's essential elements and the four-billion-year history of life on Earth.

About the Author

Stephen Porder is associate provost for sustainability and professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Brown University. He is also a fellow in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Natural History, and other leading publications. He is cofounder of Possibly, which airs on The Public's Radio and provides practical advice on sustainability to a general audience.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780691177298
ISBN-10: 0691177295
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 12th, 2023
Pages: 240
Language: English