Join us on Friday, September 15th at 7:00 p.m. for a reading and discussion with Stephen Porder, author of Elemental.
Elemental: How Five Elements Changed Earth's Past and Will Shape Our Future by Stephen Porder
“Porder’s accessible prose guides us through our planet’s intricate, elegant cycling of five life-sustaining elements. Through the lens of geologic time, humans’ capacity to alter these cycles is not unique, but our ability to shape the future is in our hands. Porder provides a critical, can-do perspective amidst the angst about the current climate emergency.”—Ruth DeFries, author of What Would Nature Do? A Guide for Our Uncertain Times
An ecologist explores how life itself shapes Earth using the elemental constituents we all share.
It is rare for life to change Earth, yet three organisms have profoundly transformed our planet over the long course of its history. Elemental reveals how microbes, plants, and people used the fundamental building blocks of life to alter the climate, and with it, the trajectory of life on Earth in the past, present, and future.
Taking readers from the deep geologic past to our current era of human dominance, Stephen Porder focuses on five of life’s essential elements—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. He describes how single-celled cyanobacteria and plants harnessed them to wildly proliferate across the oceans and the land, only to eventually precipitate environmental catastrophes. He then brings us to the present, and shows how these elements underpin the success of human civilization, and how their mismanagement threatens similarly catastrophic unintended consequences. But, Porder argues, if we can learn from our world-changing predecessors, we can construct a more sustainable future.
Blending conversational storytelling with the latest science, Porder takes us deep into the Amazon, across fresh lava flows in Hawaii, and to the cornfields of the American Midwest to illuminate a potential path to sustainability, informed by the constraints imposed by life’s essential elements and the four-billion-year history of life on Earth.
Stephen Porder is associate provost for sustainability and professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Brown University. He is also a fellow in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Natural History, and other leading publications. He is cofounder of "Possibly," which airs on The Public’s Radio and provides practical advice on sustainability to a general audience.