Life Stories: World-Renowned Scientists Reflect on their Lives and the Future of Life on Earth

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9780520218963: Life Stories: World-Renowned Scientists Reflect on their Lives and the Future of Life on Earth
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Nearly every day, the media recount stories about the degradation of the Earth's environment; these stories are met with alarm by some and with skepticism by others. Life Stories presents testimony from some of the world's top environmental scientists who have seen firsthand the sobering effects of rapid global change: the extinction of species, worldwide damage to ecosystems, and the increasing alienation of human life from the natural world. A moving celebration of nature, and a tribute to the role of science in preserving our endangered future, this exceptional collection presents the personal and professional reflections of sixteen eminent scientists. Their views on the meaning and relevance of their work are interwoven with inspiring autobiographical accounts of how formative life experiences led to their research, conclusions, and activities.

These narratives, based on personal interviews, are by such world-renowned figures as James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis; Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and founder of Zero Population Growth; Max Nicholson, a founder of the World Wildlife Fund; and Sherwood Rowland, who discovered the chemistry of atmospheric ozone depletion.

These essays read like an intimate conversation with the world's top scientists. This collection also provides a view of the international development of ecology as a scientific enterprise. Life Stories demonstrates the important role of the scientific community in fostering worldwide awareness of the dangers facing the Earth today, and in seeking solutions for tomorrow. Young readers will find this book inspiring for the life stories it tells. Readers of all ages will find here a profound, urgent, and compelling message about the future of life on Earth.

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Review:

If you put two scientists who work in the same discipline in a room and ask them to observe the same phenomenon, chances are you'll wind up with two very different interpretations of what they've seen. While science sometimes seems to thrive on disagreement, the distinguished contributors to Heather Newbold's anthology come together on one major point: that the global biosphere is by no means assured of a happy future, especially if current trends of human population growth and resource exploitation continue.

"At this pivotal point in history," Newbold writes, "consequential decisions about our collective fate need to take account of the circumstances that enable life to exist--and the requisite conditions for its continued existence." In her pages, eminent biologists and conservationists such as Paul Ehrlich, James Lovelock, Ruth Patrick, Peter Raven, and Thomas Lovejoy consider some of those circumstances. Recalling his graduate studies in entomology, Ehrlich writes of seemingly innumerable, once-common butterfly populations that have all but disappeared in their former ranges, a disappearance that speaks volumes about the worldwide destruction of habitat in just a few decades. Similarly, Canadian scientist David Suzuki remembers his youth, when the bodies of short-lived mayflies hatched from Lake Erie "piled up four feet high on the beach"; now, because the lake has been so badly polluted with pesticides and detergents, those mayflies hatch there no more. And marine biologist Elliott Norse observes how his studies have changed in a time when "national governments spend $125 billion every year to catch $70 billion worth of rapidly declining fish," a strange economy that suggests that humans, as Norse says, are now eating what they used to use for bait--a situation that likely cannot continue much longer.

Sobering and thought-provoking, Newbold's book finds these students of life on earth in a dark mood, and for abundantly good reasons. --Gregory McNamee

From the Inside Flap:

"This unusual collection of conversations with leading environmental thinkers breaks down the conventional separation between thinking and living. The presentations of ecological ideas are not only superior but often eloquent and powerful, and incorporate the latest information available. Since many of the chapters give quite full accounts of the interviewees' careers, the book will also provide inspiration to young readers." ―Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecology: A Pocket Guide

"The recurring theme of environmental emergency comes through loud and clear in all of the interviews, but this book also shows that it is people who make things happen, not the great gray 'they' or 'we.' We learn exactly who it was that discovered the hole in the ozone layer and who invented the ideas of Gaia and the Population Bomb. . . . If I had my way I would make this book required reading for students across all disciplines, because its message is profound, urgent, compelling, and relevant to everyone."―Anthony J. F. Griffiths, University of British Columbia, Winner of the Genetics Society of Canada Award of Excellence

"Life Stories should be required reading. The reverence for life expressed by these heroes is deeply moving. Their fierce determination ought to inspire all of us as we confront the environmental challenges of the new millennium." ―Denis Hayes, International Chair, Earth Day 2000

"We start the twenty-first century with a heightened awareness that our planet is under stress. Life Stories illustrates that the human spirit has the capacity to set forces in motion that will save our habitat. Heather Newbold introduces us to scientists who have probed the mysteries of our natural systems and taken action so our Earth can heal itself. As we meet them, our own hope for the future is inspired."―Peter A. A. Berle, host of The Environment Show on Public Radio

"These mini-autobiographies are captivating, challenging, and worrisome. We can successfully meet the challenge, but will we? This is attention-grabbing stuff. Once you start reading this book it will capture and hold you to the last page."―Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day

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