How the Biosphere Works: Fresh Views Discovered While Growing Peppers
(2022, The CRC Press)

For a good understanding of our current ecological concerns, it is imperative to know how the biosphere works, including its history. The biosphere is our one and only home in the otherwise inhospitable universe. It is the thin layer surrounding our planet's interior within which all life exists, including our own existence and all its biospheric effects. This is further elaborated in the book.
For addressing all of this effectively, the big question therefore is: how does the biosphere work, including all of its history? This is an extraordinarily relevant question for seeking to secure the survival and prosperity of ourselves as well as of those who will come after us.
While the biosphere has existed for about four billion years, the enormous biospheric impact of the current human presence represents only a tiny fraction of a percent of its history. Examining human history within the biosphere's history looks, therefore, as if suddenly a meteorite had struck the biosphere, in doing so transforming it incisively.
In other words: within an extremely short period of time, humanity has changed the biosphere almost beyond recognition. Yet we humans tend to think that this is the normal situation. So, how did the biosphere work before humans, and how has it been changed as a result of human action? If we want to formulate effective answers to the great many ecological issues that we are facing, we need to know all of that.
This current book addresses those ecological concerns. It is the result of more than forty years of systematically researching human history as part of the biosphere's history. Yet until now, general principles for understanding how the biosphere works, including its history, were mostly lacking. This made it difficult, if not impossible, to tell such a story in a simple and comprehensive manner.
The breakthrough came in August of 2017, when my daughter and I were growing pepper plants in our Amsterdam apartment while observing what they were doing. By mid-August the plants had produced so many leaves that the Sun was unable to shine through them unimpeded. I decided to measure their total combined surface, and found that this was twenty times as large as the surface of the flowerpot they were sitting in.
Inevitably, this meant that our pepper plants were jointly tending toward maximizing the capture of the available solar energy. Similarly inevitably, tending toward maximizing the capture of the available energy, first geothermal and later also solar, must have been a general characteristic of all of life after it had first appeared on Earth.
Equally similarly, during their entire history humans have also jointly tended toward maximizing the capture of all the available energy, with the aid of which our species has been transforming the biosphere within an extraordinarily short period of time.
So, suddenly a major general principle for understanding how the biosphere works and its history, including human history, was staring into my face.
Further contemplating what our pepper plants were doing, while reflecting on all the previous interdisciplinary knowledge that I had gained, led to the recognition of several other general principles that also appear to have been overlooked so far.
In addition, a growing number of theoretical biases became clear to me that stood in the way of a better understanding. This made me realize that in order to write an improved history of the biosphere and humanity’s place within it, I needed to rethink virtually all I knew about all those subjects. I also needed to explore whether other scholars might already have said similar things.
Doing so took me a few years, while simultaneously writing the first draft chapters of the current book. To me, the end result looks more satisfactory than any previous accounts of the biosphere’s history. In my fresh approach, all the already-existing but often disjointed theoretical aspects concerning the biosphere and its history have been combined into one single coherent whole that is attractively simple. Furthermore, it shows how out of that theoretical simplicity the extraordinary complexity of our biosphere has emerged.
While the book has already received initial praise, it remains to be seen what many others will think of it. At least I have been very fortunate to find those general principles, while similarly fortunately, The CRC Press has shown great interest and support in helping me to turn all of that into this current book.
More information about the book can be found on the publisher’s website. I realize full well that this book may only signal a first new beginning of thinking along those fresh lines. Much more work will need to be done. Any serious feedback is therefore very welcome.
The main motivation for writing this book has been my longstanding concern about how humanity got itself into its current ecological predicament, as well as what could be done to secure the best possible future for all people, including the coming generations, on this beautiful but limited planet Earth. This is explained in some more detail in Career description. If the book helps a little in addressing those ecological concerns effectively, I will be more than happy.
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