How Plants Keep the Earth Alive
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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The author is grateful to Eldon Franz of Washington State University and Steward T. A. Pickett of the Institute for Ecosystem Studies for reviews and advice; to Gleny Beach of Southeastern Oklahoma State University for illustrations; to Sir...
Introduction: Remnants of Paradise
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It certainly didn’t seem like paradise. I was up to my hips in the sucking slime of a swamp. Because of the water had very little oxygen, the leaf litter and the corpses of mosquitoes and snapping turtles did not completely decompose. Instead they produced a dark brown glue...
Chapter One: An Injured Paradise
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About seven thousand years ago,much of the earth was a paradise. Many cultures have legends of a primordial paradise. One of these legends, familiar to people of the Western cultural tradition, is the Garden of Eden. This story provides an image of the original relationship...
Chapter Two: Plants Put the Oxygen in the Air
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In order to feel gratitude for the silent, clean, tireless work that plants perform, it is necessary to do no more than to take a deep breath. Better yet, go outside and look at the blue sky, and take a deep breath....
Chapter Three: Greenhouse Earth: Plants Help to Keep the Earth from Overheating
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The earth is getting warmer, and humans are the principal cause. Humans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas in the atmosphere, and this gas retains heat in the atmosphere. Along with global warming have come other changes in climate, such as an increase in...
Chapter Four: Shade: Trees Make Good Air Conditioners
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The time: about 1800. The place: northwestern Georgia. American soldiers are building a fort. The soldiers are part of one of the largest transformations of the earth in human history. The young United States engaged in a centuries-long frenzy of destroying the natural landscape and replacing it with its ideal of an artificial one. Americans cut down nearly the entire eastern deciduous...
Chapter Five: The Water Cycle: Plants Prevent Droughts and Floods
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Clouds gather ominously in the sky. A thick blanket of water vapor precipitates into torrents of rain. Cities and villages flood, washing away lives and livelihoods. The story is repeated over and over, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889 to Honduras in 1998. People call them...
Chapter Six: Plants Feed the World
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The rise of fast food chains—spreading late in the twentieth century from the United States to every corner of the world—is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary society. Anywhere in the world you go, you can get exactly the same kind of hamburger and fries,...
Chapter Seven: Plants Create Soil
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During the Dust Bowl of the late 1920s and 1930s, millions of tons of topsoil from the western great plains of the United States blew for thousands of miles in the air, leaving a withered and almost sterile substrate that would grow very little food or forage. In many midwestern...
Chapter Eight: Plants Create Habitats
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In 1978, I hiked to the top of the tallest peak in the continental United States, Mt.Whitney in California, more than 14,000 feet above sea level. I looked toward the southeast down into Death Valley, which at more than 300 feet below sea level is the lowest part of the continental...
Chapter Nine: Plants Heal the Landscape
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Welcome to the tropical rain forest of Central America. Foliage grows luxuriantly everywhere; woody vines bind together the branches of tall trees. In what appears to be an undisturbed, primordial rain forest, a fine mist falls on the leaves and drips from their tips onto...
Chapter Ten: How Agriculture Changed the World
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Plants keep the world, including the human world, alive in many ways, as explained in the preceding chapters. But there is a particularly special way in which plants maintain our existence and support the entire human economy: agriculture. In prehistoric times, when there were only a million people in the world, hunting and gathering...
Chapter Eleven: Why We Need Plant Diversity
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Representative James V. Hansen called it “a shot across the bow from a retiring chairman” and apparently considered it one of his best. Hansen, the Republican representative from Utah’s First District and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, filed a “landmark bill” in late 2002 that would exempt private property, military...
Chapter Twelve: What Can We Do?
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Most of the ecological problems facing the world are interconnected with one another. This is both bad and good news.The bad news is that we cannot make much of a difference in the world by solving just one of the ecological problems, such as the greenhouse...
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About the Author
Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 30 illustrations, 10 graphs, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009