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Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature

Overview

The biosphere — the Earth's thin layer of life — dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere's character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere's stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day. Smil examines ...

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Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature

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Overview

The biosphere — the Earth's thin layer of life — dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere's character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere's stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day. Smil examines all harvests — from prehistoric man's hunting of megafauna to modern crop production — and all uses of harvested biomass, including energy, food, and raw materials. Without harvesting of the biomass, Smil points out, there would be no story of human evolution and advancing civilization; but at the same time, the increasing extent and intensity of present-day biomass harvests are changing the very foundations of civilization's well-being.

In his detailed and comprehensive account, Smil presents the best possible quantifications of past and current global losses in order to assess the evolution and extent of biomass harvests. Drawing on the latest work in disciplines ranging from anthropology to environmental science, Smil offers a valuable long-term, planet-wide perspective on human-caused environmental change.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262018562
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 805,674
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Vaclav Smil is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba.

He is the author of more than thirty books, including Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature and, most recently,Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing, both published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2013 Bill Gates wrote on his website that "there is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil."

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

I The Earth's Biomass: Stores, Productivity, Harvests 1

1 Biomass: Definitions and Compositions 5

2 Biomass Stores: Means and Extremes 15

3 Biomass Productivities 31

4 Phytomass Harvests 41

5 Zoomass Harvests 51

6 Land Cover and Productivity Changes 59

II History of the Harvests: From Foraging to Globalization 65

7 The Evolution of Foraging 71

8 Crops and Animals 103

9 Biomass Fuels and Raw Materials 131

III Adding Up the Claims: Harvests, Losses, and Trends 151

10 Changing Land Cover and Land Use 157

11 Harvesting the Biosphere 183

12 Long-Term Trends and Possible Worlds 221

Scientific Units and Prefixes 253

References 255

Subject Index 297

Species Index 305

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