Our Dying Planet

Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist's View of the Crisis We Face

Peter F. Sale
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnsh8
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  • Book Info
    Our Dying Planet
    Book Description:

    Coral reefs are on track to become the first ecosystem actually eliminated from the planet. So says leading ecologist Peter F. Sale in this crash course on the state of the planet. Sale draws from his own extensive work on coral reefs, and from recent research by other ecologists, to explore the many ways we are changing the earth and to explain why it matters. Weaving into the narrative his own firsthand field experiences around the world, Sale brings ecology alive while giving a solid understanding of the science at work behind today’s pressing environmental issues. He delves into topics including overfishing, deforestation, biodiversity loss, use of fossil fuels, population growth, and climate change while discussing the real consequences of our growing ecological footprint. Most important, this passionately written book emphasizes that a gloom-and-doom scenario is not inevitable, and as Sale explores alternative paths, he considers the ways in which science can help us realize a better future.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94983-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-14)

    April 1984, Heron Island, southern Great Barrier Reef. The helicopter landed in a swirl of sand on the circular pad near the resort. I grabbed my gear, walked across the island to the research station for a hasty hello, then headed down the beach to the waiting skiff. Fifteen minutes after landing, I boarded theMV Hero, joining my research team. They had just spent a week under trying circumstances of high winds, rough seas, and cold rain doing scuba surveys of the Capricorn Group on the southern Great Barrier Reef. Naturally, on my arrival, the seas had flattened and...

  5. PART ONE. INFORMATION:: WHAT WE ARE DOING TO OUR WORLD
    • 1 OVERFISHING
      (pp. 17-55)

      We have always been fishermen.¹ Fishing extends far back into our human past, and as our last remaining hunter-gatherer activity it ties us to that past in a tangible way. We capture wild aquatic organisms for personal use and to trade with other people. Most, but not all, of these fishery products are used for food. A trout fisherman on a Scottish stream who ties his own flies and approaches his sport with a quasi-religious fervor may have very little in common with the Malaysian peasant who fossicks at low tide for edible shellfish and crabs to feed her family,...

    • 2 REMOVING FORESTS
      (pp. 57-75)

      I first met Meg Lowman when she came to Australia as a graduate student in the mid-1980s to study herbivorous insects in eucalyptus forests.¹ We both traveled north to Queensland—my graduate students and I to dive on the Barrier Reef, she to climb into forest canopies. For a time she provided an important window onto a kind of ecosystem with which I had little direct experience. I vividly remember one conversation in which she lamented the difficulty of getting up to the canopy where she suspected all the action took place. I understood exactly what she meant, because I...

    • 3 DISRUPTING THE OCEAN-ATMOSPHERE ENGINE
      (pp. 77-105)

      Sudbury, Ontario, was a surreal place when I drove through it in 1962. Heavily industrialized, a mining town, it was not a pretty place to begin with. But the coal-fired power plants and smelters delivered a constant stream of sulfur compounds to the atmosphere, and the resulting acid rain had produced an ugly result. For miles around Sudbury, particularly downwind of it to the east and north, the landscape looked like something very bad had happened—some places resembled a lunar landscape, with rocky hillsides devoid of trees, while other places had only stunted and twisted trees. The boreal forest...

    • 4 THE PERILOUS FUTURE FOR CORAL REEFS
      (pp. 107-150)

      It was a clear, sunny day in the summer of 1973. Summer days are usually sunny on the southern Great Barrier Reef, but in truth, the winds had been up for the past couple of days, and diving conditions were marred by reduced visibility. I was at 15 feet, motionless, watching my fish and writing on my Plexiglas slate. I’d spent a lot of time over the last couple of years at this spot on the edge of Heron Reef, directly south of the Heron Island Research Station. I was investigating real estate transactions, of a sort. I was alone,...

  6. PART TWO. UNDERSTANDING:: WHY WE DON’T COMPREHEND THE SCALE OF OUR PROBLEM
    • 5 THE PROBLEM OF SHIFTING BASELINES
      (pp. 153-165)

      I first met Daniel Pauly at an intensive workshop in Sydney, Australia, in January 1981. At that time he was based in the Philippines at ICLARM, the International Center for Living Aquatic Resource Management. He stayed at ICLARM (which became WorldFish and moved its headquarters to Malaysia) until 1994, when he joined the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia. He remains one of the world’s most prolific and widely cited fisheries scientists.

      In 1981 Daniel was a young scientist and was somewhat impatient with the way his field moved forward. Fisheries science had grown up in the context...

    • 6 OUR UNREALISTIC BELIEF IN THE BALANCE OF NATURE
      (pp. 167-198)

      My academic advisor in graduate school in Hawaii was the late W. A. (Bill) Gosline, a crusty old ichthyologist (fish biologist) who made many contributions to our understanding of the evolution of fishes. Being crusty, he did not like to mince his words—but he also had a gift for letting the naive student learn gently. I told him that for my Ph.D. research I wanted to pick a group of ecologically similar species and figure out what it was that permitted them to occur together on the reef. Without so much as a wink or a slight smile, Bill...

  7. PART THREE. MOVING FORWARD:: WHY IT MATTERS AND WHAT WE NEED TO DO
    • 7 WHAT LOSS OF ECOLOGICAL COMPLEXITY MEANS FOR THE WORLD
      (pp. 201-235)

      The dodo (Raphus cucullatus), known primarily for being dead, was a substantial, flightless bird that, at 23 kg, was about twice the size of the largest Thanksgiving turkeys. It was endemic to Mauritius, a set of islands east of Madagascar, and was first discovered by Europeans when Dutch sailors landed there in 1598. Typical of birds on isolated islands without mammalian predators, the dodo was “fearless” and sometimes used for food by European sailors. Habitat destruction and the introduction of egg predators including dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and crab-eating macaques (European explorers were not noted for their care in what...

    • 8 REDUCING OUR USE OF FOSSIL FUELS
      (pp. 237-259)

      At 11 p.m. on April 20, 2010, something went wrong on board the Deepwater Horizon, a semisubmersible oil drilling platform located about 80 km southeast of the Mississippi Delta and almost one mile above a new well on the ocean floor. The well had been drilled a further three miles down into the estimated 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil lying below—about a six-month supply for the U.S. economy. There was an explosion and fire, and the rig burned furiously until April 22, when it finally sank beneath the waves, leaving broken pipes spilling crude oil at the bottom...

    • 9 SLOWING GROWTH OF THE HUMAN POPULATION
      (pp. 261-271)

      Since 1950 demographers at the United Nations Population Division have been reliably tracking our growing population and predicting growth into the future. Their predictions have proven quite robust in the short term (for periods up to fifty years into the future). They advise us that, barring a catastrophe comparable in scale to the Black Death of the fourteenth century or a dramatic shift in human behavior, the global population will reach 9.2 billion by 2050. At present, the earth supports almost 6.9 billion people, so we are talking about an increase of about 2.3 billion people over the next forty...

    • 10 OUR ALTERNATIVE FUTURES
      (pp. 273-304)

      Paradoxically, our global thirst for oil, which featured in chapter 8, is the reason the world has the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Established by the Australian government in 1975, it was until very recently the largest marine management area in the world, encompassing 344,400 square km of ocean and reef, perforated occasionally by island pieces of the state of Queensland.¹

      In the late 1960s, Australia was actively promoting a search for oil to achieve energy independence, and multinational oil companies were lining up for leases. Since the continental shelf off Queensland was thought to have good oil potential, the...

  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 305-322)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 323-339)