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

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4.1 out of 5 stars 7 reviews from

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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

From the Inside Flap

" Our Dying Planet is the most powerful statement on the future of life on earth I have ever read. Starting with the title, which I admire greatly, it delivers the sort of honest, accurate, no-punches-pulled assessment you would expect from a scientist who has seen the problems first hand. Coral reefs appear set to be the first major ecosystem to go extinct. Few people know more about this than Peter Sale. If every scientist were to speak as convincingly as Sale, the public might finally grasp the seriousness of the course on which we've set our planet."--Randy Olson, author of Don't Be Such a Scientist
"Peter Sale's book shows us the exquisite sensitivity of ecosystems to the consequences of human activity. This is the anthropocene epoch, a time when human beings have become a force of nature, altering properties of the biosphere on a geological scale. Read this and you will know it is very late and we must act." --David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance and The Legacy
"Disruptions such as overfishing, forest desecration, ocean acidification and pollution, and the wholesale destruction of coral reefs have already changed the earth disastrously. These problems will not fix themselves. For an articulate and crucial discussion of the mess we've made -- and with some small hope for the future -- you must read this book."--Richard Ellis, author of The Empty Ocean and The Great Sperm Whale
"A bold and convincing explication of the forces inexorably leading to an environmental collapse, and sooner than most people think. Sale, a leading ecologist, tackles some sacred cows - including the implications of human population growth - and shows the many synergisms between impacts that would be devastating even if they acted alone - which they don't. No one will read Our Dying Planet and remain complacent, but Sale sketches some promising paths out of our dilemma."--Daniel Simberloff, coeditor of Encyclopedia of Biological Invasions --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.1 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars book club reader 7 Oct. 2012
By Lindy - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was chosen for my book club to read. As it turned out, this book is more a textbook rather than easy/informational reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Holocene Mass Extinction in undeniable detail 2 Jun. 2016
By Luke R. Lozier - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
While mostly deflationary to one's hopes that our species might somehow turn things around, this book also spells out exactly how and why the human-caused extinction cascade should even grab the attention of the biggest deniers - like a narcissist running for US President - even if only that their greedy self-righteous exploitation binge is also going to be imperiled sooner than they might imagine. It also deftly skewers the bizarre received foundational plank of Western economic theory that some magical deity is providing us humans with inexhaustible resources that we are obliged to greedily exploit in the name of quarter-on-quarter growth for our precious corporations. We'll probably kiss virtually all splendid coral reefs goodbye before the turn of this century, but perhaps books like this will wake a few more influential people right the fûkç up, especially in the USA.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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>>

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
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