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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsory reading, for everyone!, 1 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Ocean of Life (Hardcover)
This book should be compulsory reading. If I could be God for one night, I would implant it's messages into the dreams of every single human being.

As a famous scientist once observed, given how it looks from space, our planet should be called Sea or Ocean rather than Earth. We are a blue planet, and as Callum Roberts brilliantly shows us, we are mystified by the big blue we look out at, whether the great oceans of the Atlantic or Pacific, or our many seas. As a result, we imagine their vastness as somehow beyond our control, a measure of our insignificance even. Yet, we are significant, and like the tiny people of Lilliput in Gulliver's Travels, we are capable of torturing the giant.

The history of our planet is a history of co-evolution, between the animals, plants and sealife, and the chemical composition of the atmosphere. This global system, or Gaia, as James Lovelock would call it, flows between periods of change and equilibrium. Millions of years of relatively stationary growth followed by explosions of change. The principal culprits are the elements of sulphur, carbon and oxygen, and their chemical combinations. Their various properties allow the growth of certain lifeforms. The calcium carbonate in the oceans is shaped by life into shells and corals, that in turn give rise to huge numbers of species along the foodchain. Over 300 million years ago, oxygen levels were not high enough to support large forms of life. Carbon dioxide emissions from volcanic eruptions led to huge instances of global warming - 65 million years ago dinosaurs walked and hunted on the South Pole. Subsequently ice ages have come and gone and sea levels have risen and fallen hundreds of metres, giving rise to the world we know now.

And then we arrived. And how we are changing our planet. Roberts' book shows how the ways we are interacting with our planet and particularly what this means for the oceans. Since the industrial revolution, the emissions and deforestation we have caused have led carbon dioxide levels to go from 280 ppm (parts per million) to 400 ppm. That is, we have nearly added an additional 50% of CO2 to the atmosphere. Callum Roberts shows how this does not just simply cause global warming, but has untold effects on our seas and oceans and the life within them. The conditions for the abundance of sea life we have enjoyed, exploited and over-fished, are now being destroyed through a series of simple interactions of chemicals, temperature and humans. We are toxifying and acidifying the seas and oceans, while simultaneously heating them up and destroying ecosystems through over-fishing and destructive fishing practices. The future is bleak, bleak and more bleak.

But don't let that put you off buying this book. Firstly, it is brilliantly written and informative, an excellent history of our planet and our fundamental status as fishermen and women - scientists now believe it is most likely humans were first a people who waded and sought a high-protein diet from shallow waters. Secondly, the book is full of optimism and positive messages about how we can avert catastrophe despite the story of destruction up to this point. Some of this hope may be false or delusional, but the book demands reading nonetheless. And as I say, it really should be compulsory.
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