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Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist's View of the Crisis We Face Hardcover – 23 Aug 2011

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"Sale brings ecology alive while giving a solid understanding of the science at work behind today's pressing environmental issues... A must-read for those that care about the planet Earth." -- Ian Paulsen The Guardian / Birdbooker Report Blog 20110828 "Sale provides a solid introduction to the study of ecology, simultaneously making readers comfortable with the science at hand and stressing the need to address collapsing ecosystems." -- Robin K. Dillow Library Journal 20111216 "A deeply researched and clear-eyed call to arms." -- Richard P. Grant The Scientist 20120101 "Sale provides much food for thought in this provocative look at a hotly debated subject." Kirkus Reviews 20110801 Thorough, balanced and state of the art... A Powerful, multifaceted, vivid analysis of human-induced environmental change... A rewarding read." -- Matthias Schaefer Basic & Applied Ecology 20121012 "[Sale's] prose and storytelling are engaging and flow well, and many complex concepts are well explained... Instructive and intriguing." -- Erle C. Ellis, University of Maryland Qtly Review Of Biology 20130322 "Sale has a gift for accurately observing and communicating complex scientific concepts to nonscientists; any adult with a high school education can understand and appreciate this work... Highly recommended." -- D. Flaspohler Choice 20120301 "Full of nasty surprises... an important book about the future of life on a warmer earth." -- Jan McGirk Huffington Post 20120324 "There is a delicate balance between showing the true complexity of environmental problems and keeping the science of these fields accessible to non-scientists. It is a balance that Sale, for the most part, navigates deftly." -- Ashley Titterton Canadian Dimension 20120215

About the Author

Peter F. Sale is Assistant Director, Institute for Water, Environment, and Health at United Nations University and University Professor Emeritus at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. He is the author of The Ecology of Fishes on Coral Reefs, Coral Reef Fishes, and Marine Metapopulations.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Tough Love, With Science 6 Sept. 2011
By Jon at Uwindsor - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Peter Sale is an able communicator of difficult news and in this book gives the reader his informed take on the major environmental crises facing us. These crises are essentially all global environmental "elephants in the room" as he sees them, and Sale uses science, plus his own life experiences as an ecologist to tell the story.
Sale's book is that of a leading coral reef scientist and ecologist of note. He has broad experience and in the book speaks cogently to all the major ecological crises confronting us. His narrative weaves together engaging autobiographical and firsthand field experiences from over the past forty years. The story is at once a kind of paean to snorkeling in some of the sweetest reef environments around the world and a compelling case for an objective way forward in a world of over-consumptiveness.
The book is clearly written including throughout little personal details often held in footnotes that bring the author front and centre, while remaining in the footnotes; the text is admirably objective for so personal a treatment of this subject.
Sale takes the reader on a fascinating tour of the world, mostly visiting marine field stations and coral reefs of the world that he has been to many times and examined closely over decades, and which he connects to current ecological realities. Along the way the reader is introduced in clear and engaging ways to ecological and demographic fundamentals -trophic level, age cohort, ecological footprint, biocapacity, etc., that help us understand modern day realities within the realms of fisheries ecology, coral reef biology, forestry and biodiversity patterns, as well as climate change.
The science is described clearly and its relevance is well demonstrated. Sale's gentle absence of patience for such non-nay-saying organizations as the FAO helps convey something of the real-world difficulties we face when it comes to real-world `solutions' to these large ecological crises. I highly recommend this excellent book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A call for understanding and action 20 Sept. 2011
By Anna Mallin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Peter Sale is an academic. In his book, Our Dying Planet, he addresses a non-academic audience and reviews the ongoing changes in the natural environment in which we live. He states that we are now experiencing the "Holocene Extinction" - an extinction of species that may be proceeding at a much faster pace than at any previous time in our planet's history. Does this reduction of number of species matter? Perhaps not much on an individual level - the world's ecosystems can perhaps survive the loss of the Dodo. But at some point the cumulative effects will cause major disruptions, the tipping point will be exceeded and the world around us will become a very different place from the one we know.

What is the cause of our Holocene Extinction? The over-simplified answer (which does not do justice to Sale's full arguments) is - too many people consuming too many resources at a rate at which they cannot be replenished coupled with excessive use of fossil fuels.

Sale examines the importance of "ecological complexity" and recasts our understanding of "resilience" by suggesting that particular ecosystems (or perhaps particular "patches" of ecosystems) have "inertia" and can withstand a certain amount of disruption until such time as disruption is so overwhelming that the ecosystem, or patch, changes its character - for example from forest to desert or from sea-ice to open water.

Sale reminds us that technologies exist NOW to allow us to improve matters by replacing fossil fuels with energy from falling water, solar, wind, waves, etc. He states forcefully that we know the answers. We already know what to do. For example, reduce energy use by building to LEED standards, enlarge railway nets to reduce energy used in truck transport, encourage smaller numbers of children, etc. What we lack is public consensus and the political will to do it.

Sale's goal is to cause us all to come to a very widespread understanding of why we must change our ways - and to do so on ALL fronts. His hope is that this understanding will help to create a the sea change in public attitudes and behavior that may, finally, persuade politicians to pay attention to assuring that the global ecosystems remain habitable for our children and their children.

Sale's litany of unhappy news is presented with a lively and accessible writing style, peppered with frequent intriguing anecdotes from his research life (for example, observation of the real estate transactions of damsel fish) and some most intriguing real-life examples of "doing it right" - of hopeful management of the sort that might steer us away from the looming disasters. There IS hope - if we can only manufacture the concerted public and political will to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel and, most of all, to reduce our population growth.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
On reefs and renewal 15 Oct. 2011
By jakeofish - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Our tradition of environmental literature has been built by thinkers ranging from philosophers (Walden, Leopold), statesmen (Marsh, Gore), journalists (Kurlansky, Quammen), activists (Muir, Maathai), novelists (Abbey, Bass), and others of many and varied stripes.

But in my view, the most fundamental, and often the most penetrating, contributions to this body of thought come from research scientists. For environmental issues have at their core processes operating in the realms of ecology, oceanography, geology, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, climatology, and other disciplines of the physical and biological sciences. Therefore, the insights of Paul Ehrlich, E.O. Wilson, Jared Diamond and others of their ilk help us understand these challenges at their most fundamental level.

Joining this group of accomplished research scientists who have stepped out of the ivory tower to convey crucial messages much more far and wide steps Dr. Peter Sale. Dr. Sale is arguably the world's foremost expert on the ecology of coral reefs, and has spent a lifetime pushing the limits of our understanding of these complex and fascinating ecosystems. Now, in "Our Dying Planet," Sale uses coral reefs as a lens for understanding the challenges facing our planet and ourselves. For coral reefs sit at the nexus of nearly all of the major threats to environmental sustainability: climate change, overharvesting, pollution, watershed management, coastal development, and other impacts. Accordingly, they serve as the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" of where we might be headed if we don't change our ways.

But Sale uses coral reefs not simply as a lens, but also as a springboard. The same suite of threats jeopardizing the very existence of coral reefs are also bringing pressure to bear on forests, the larger ocean, and the global climate system. Sale turns his keen ecological insight toward these other critical systems as well, weaving together a story of a whole that will deteriorate with greater speed and force than the sum of its parts if we don't quickly recognize the reality of where we stand and the actions needed to steer a different course.

And this is the most important contribution of "Our Dying Planet". Despite its sobering name, and despite the dire picture it paints of how we are pushing limits that we don't fully understand, Sale offers a hopeful message. He describes very clear, achievable steps that we can take, including many that we have already taken in small doses but now need to scale up, to chart a different course toward ecological resilience and productivity, to the benefit of nature and ourselves.

Anyone who has met Dr. Sale (as I have) knows what a measured and thoughtful, yet sharp and really rather witty, demeanor he portrays. That intellect and wit comes across in his writing as well (his footnote about "fishers" on page 17 in particular gave me quite a chuckle). He clearly explains complex science and what it tell us about our possible future, gives it life through humor and anecdote, and pulls no punches with his warnings while still inspiring hope with his roadmap toward a better future. "Our Dying Planet" is well worth reading by anyone concerned with the fate of humanity and our world.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Read this book to discover how we can stop our planet from dying 4 Feb. 2012
By Stephen Pletko - Published on
Format: Hardcover

"Given that the world has changed, sometimes drastically, in the geological past and is changing today, we must recognize that it may change drastically in the future. When I look at the available data, I see three factors suggesting that the changes happening now or the ones likely to happen in the future are somewhat special--which is science talk for 'alarming.'

First is the changes, climatic and otherwise, that are presently occurring are more rapid than any in the past, except for rare cases when events such as the arrival of a large meteorite caused changes very quickly.

Second is that some of the changes occurring now are different from any that have happened before, and many different kinds of change are occurring at once.

Third is that the more severe changes in past periods have led to mass extinctions, including the removal of the dominant organisms. We are the dominant organism's of today's world...

Putting it simply, I aim to convince you that we live in challenging times, and our challenge is not to manage the world so that it does not change, but to manage our impacts so that patterns of change do not become so severe that devastating tipping points are exceeded."

The above extract comes from the introduction of this powerful, well-written book by Peter F. Sale. Sale, an ecologist (specifically, an animal ecologist), is assistant director at the Institute for Water, Environment, and Health at the United Nations University. He is also professor emeritus at the University of Windsor (in Ontario, Canada).

Ecology is that branch of the science of biology that deals with the relations between living organisms and their environment. Thus, Sale as an ecologist has to be an expert on the environment. His expertise shines through in this book.

The book itself is divided into three parts:

The first part (4 chapters) looks at four specific examples of how our activities impact the natural world.

The second part (2 chapters) can be summarized by asking the following question:

In view of all the human-caused devastation mentioned in the first part, why don't we humans get it? (That is, why don't we understand that we have a big and growing environmental problem?)

The third and my favourite part (4 chapters) looks into what we must do so as not to reach critical environmental tipping points. Then humanity's possible alternative futures are presented. But before all this can be discussed, it's important to know what a loss of ecological complexity means for the world and this is what the first chapter of this part does.

Throughout this book, there are illustrations especially in the first part. Each chapter begins with a black-and-white picture. I found all of these informative and interesting.

Finally, this book is not all about doom and gloom (as you might expect from a book like this). As Sale says:

"We have the opportunity to choose [a] future [for humanity] that will unfold and the capacity to make it happen; and we humans have a history of moving quickly once we make the collective decision to move at all."

In conclusion, the most important thing you should get from this book is that the environmental problems that we have created WILL NOT FIX THEMSELVES.

(first published 2011; preface; introduction; 3 parts or 10 chapters; main narrative 305 pages; bibliography; index)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

Beauty and a dire warning from a man who has spent his life in our oceans 13 Feb. 2014
By Raymond J. Salmond - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Very readable book, with wonderful stories of our wonderful oceans and the terrible plight they face, and the consequences for our world and us. Strong, clear, interesting and conveying the author's love, knowledge and concern
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