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By looking backward at the course of great extinctions, a paleontologist sees what the future holds.

More than 200 million years ago, a cataclysmic event known as the Permian extinction destroyed more than 90 percent of all species and nearly 97 percent of all living things. Its origins have long been a puzzle for paleontologists. During the 1990s and the early part of this century, a great battle was fought between those who thought that death had come from above and those who thought something more complicated was at work.

Paleontologist Peter. D. Ward, fresh from helping prove that an asteroid had killed the dinosaurs, turned to the Permian problem, and he has come to a stunning conclusion. In his investigations of the fates of several groups of mollusks during that extinction and others, he discovered that the near-total devastation at the end of the Permian period was caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide leading to climate change. But it's not the heat (nor the humidity) that's directly responsible for the extinctions, and the story of the discovery of what is responsible makes for a fascinating, globe-spanning adventure.

In Under a Green Sky, Ward explains how the Permian extinction as well as four others happened, and describes the freakish oceans—belching poisonous gas—and sky—slightly green and always hazy—that would have attended them. Those ancient upheavals demonstrate that the threat of climate change cannot be ignored, lest the world's life today—ourselves included—face the same dire fate that has overwhelmed our planet several times before.

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9780061755453
List price: $9.99
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I liked this book. The theory of mass extinctions could have just been presented at the outset, probably in a paragraph or a chapter, but Ward tells it as a story of the search for truth, so we get both the science angle and the politics of science angle. It's a good book to read if you're interested in global warming, mass extinctions, and how science works. I found his discussion of the politics and personal interactions surrounding the impact hypothesis for the dinosaurs' extinction intriguing and a bit sad, too. It's odd that the scientists can't all just sit down and discuss the science. Some of them, I suppose, did, and Ward tries to present himself in that role. Ward is certainly in a position to address all of this in an authoritative way. It was interesting that some of the points made by the anti-impact people in the case of the dinosaurs' extinction, even though they turned out to be wrong, were helpful in addressing the problems relating to the other extinctions. I found some of his descriptions of his trips to sites to study the fossils a bit confusing. His descriptions seemed careful enough, and I picked up most of what it was like "working" the sites, but for some reason it was often hard to picture what exactly the site looked like physically and what he did physically. Perhaps some pictures or photos of the sites might have helped. Also, I'd be interested in knowing what his reaction to the "runaway greenhouse" possibility invoked in James Hansen's more recent book "Storms of my Grandchildren" would be. But his point that climate scientists and scientists investigating the mass extinctions should work together is very well taken. It's important for us to consider the human side of the science story because "how science works" is an issue for a lot of people, who still don't trust science. If you don't trust science, you'll be reluctant to accept the fact of climate change. Ward's discussion leaves the impression that the discipline of science can overcome some pretty strong personal feelings, and in balance leaves us with a good feeling about science even when individual scientists can sometimes be pretty strange.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is probably the clearest writing you will find on the subject of past extinctions and paleo climate changes. The title comes from the authors interpretation of what the earth would look like during the height of the Permian-Triasic extinction. This is the largest and one of the most difficult to understand die-offs ever to occur on the earth. Ward's field work provides compelling hard evidence to his interpretations and will scare the pants off you.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.

Reviews

I liked this book. The theory of mass extinctions could have just been presented at the outset, probably in a paragraph or a chapter, but Ward tells it as a story of the search for truth, so we get both the science angle and the politics of science angle. It's a good book to read if you're interested in global warming, mass extinctions, and how science works. I found his discussion of the politics and personal interactions surrounding the impact hypothesis for the dinosaurs' extinction intriguing and a bit sad, too. It's odd that the scientists can't all just sit down and discuss the science. Some of them, I suppose, did, and Ward tries to present himself in that role. Ward is certainly in a position to address all of this in an authoritative way. It was interesting that some of the points made by the anti-impact people in the case of the dinosaurs' extinction, even though they turned out to be wrong, were helpful in addressing the problems relating to the other extinctions. I found some of his descriptions of his trips to sites to study the fossils a bit confusing. His descriptions seemed careful enough, and I picked up most of what it was like "working" the sites, but for some reason it was often hard to picture what exactly the site looked like physically and what he did physically. Perhaps some pictures or photos of the sites might have helped. Also, I'd be interested in knowing what his reaction to the "runaway greenhouse" possibility invoked in James Hansen's more recent book "Storms of my Grandchildren" would be. But his point that climate scientists and scientists investigating the mass extinctions should work together is very well taken. It's important for us to consider the human side of the science story because "how science works" is an issue for a lot of people, who still don't trust science. If you don't trust science, you'll be reluctant to accept the fact of climate change. Ward's discussion leaves the impression that the discipline of science can overcome some pretty strong personal feelings, and in balance leaves us with a good feeling about science even when individual scientists can sometimes be pretty strange.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is probably the clearest writing you will find on the subject of past extinctions and paleo climate changes. The title comes from the authors interpretation of what the earth would look like during the height of the Permian-Triasic extinction. This is the largest and one of the most difficult to understand die-offs ever to occur on the earth. Ward's field work provides compelling hard evidence to his interpretations and will scare the pants off you.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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