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Beyond Extinction: The Eternal Ocean. Climate change & the continuity of life

Grulke Beyond ExtinctionThis visually stunning book is summarised superbly by the author: “This book is nothing more than an unbridled celebration of life, over time, in that eternal ocean”. The work explores, as discovered through the personal journey of the author, the history and evolution of life, its role in the Earth system and how we fit into it. The book successfully breaks down complex issues including the evolution of life and deep time into understandable bits.

We begin at Earth’s creation during the Hadean which, after a million-year downpour, resulted in a vast ocean filled with anaerobic marine life. Slowly but surely that life, fighting the rusting of Earth’s crust, altered the composition of the atmosphere to one rich in oxygen, leading to the dominance of aerobic life and ultimately us, Homo Sapiens.

The book continues with a chronology that tracks the evolution of life and Earth up to and including the brief evolution and history of Homo Sapiens, into the Enlightenment of the 18th Century. This section focusses on geology and fossils and how their discovery has ultimately led to enlightened rationalism and understanding of geologic time.

With this understanding of ancient life and the concept of deep time, it is possible for us to understand how the world was not all that different “back then” and in fact life’s story is more about continuity than extinction. The text investigates mass-extinction events and, with a focus on animals, uses examples, charts and beautiful images. A traffic light system of species extinction, biological/evolutionary innovation and species continuations are presented. These sections explore evolutionary innovations, including skeletons, eyes, the egg and the migration of animals from the oceans to land, as well as departures from the fossils record, like the Trilobites, Belemnites, Ammonites and “Sea Dragons”, amongst others.

However, the primary message of this book can be found in the chapter on Continuities, which, through a multitude of phyla (including Cnidaria, Mollusca, Echinodermata etc.), explores the idea that life tends towards continuity and not change. This message of continuity is described very well. When asked “How do you survive a catastrophe?” Just ask any Nautilus as they thrived for 500 million years, living through five mass-extinctions! The final chapter discusses our place in this world, considering what we have learnt about deep time and the continuity of life.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a strong story about where our species fits on Earth.

Reviewed by Simon Kettle

BEYOND EXTINCTION: THE ETERNAL OCEAN. CLIMATE CHANGE & THE CONTINUITY OF LIFE, by Wolfgang Grulke, 2019. Published by: At One Communications, 224 pp. ISBN: 9781916039407 (hbk.) (Available from June 2019). List Price: £38.00 W: