The 2020 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures featured three eminent scientists from different fields presenting a unique ‘user’s guide’ to Planet Earth. Their programmes unravelled astonishing global systems and remarkable natural wonders that combine to keep life on Earth alive.
And they explored how human activity has become an overwhelming geological force – disrupting the finely tuned systems that have kept our planet running smoothly for billions of years. We learnt how we can each help repair the damage we’re doing and live more sustainably, as Earth’s population increases.
All three episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer until December 2021!
Each of these world-famous Lectures from the Royal Institution bring to life one aspect of Earth’s inner workings:
Episode 1 – Professor Chris Jackson travels back into deep geological time, charting the Earth’s climate as it swings from hothouse to ice house and back again. With the help of spectacular volcanic eruptions and giant snowballs, he shows us how our planet’s oldest rocks and fossils provide evidence of radical climate changes throughout its history.
Chris reveals that what drives these changes is the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. For billions of years, volcanic activity increased CO2 levels, and mountain building reduced them. But in the last 100 years, a new kind of geological force is tipping the balance – human activity. For the first time, it is we who are changing the planet Earth’s climate, and at a rapid rate, with dangerous consequences unless we act quickly.
Episode 2 – Dr Helen Czerski unpicks the ocean’s heating and plumbing systems, showing how whale poo, waterfalls beneath the sea and zooplankton are all vital parts of an engine that distributes heat and nutrients around our planet.
Helen voyages from the cities of the ocean to its deserts, from its deepest depths to its surface, via an alien inner structure that is home to so much of the Earth’s life. This planetary life support system plays a critical role in generating weather, providing food and connecting trade routes. The ocean is an underappreciated resource. Helen tells us what we need to know to be good citizens of an ocean planet.
Episode 3 – Dr Tara Shine takes a deep breath and marvels at something we all take for granted: oxygen. She demonstrates how Earth produces a never-ending supply of this gas – the raw material for all complex life – and investigates what else is in the air that we breathe. One critical component is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that’s causing a dangerous rise in atmospheric warming.
Tara looks at the carbon footprint of a loaf of bread and how hydrogen might be the answer for heating and transport. From developing exciting new technologies to protecting wetlands and forests, the solutions are everywhere. Our ideas and ingenuity can create a better, cleaner and more sustainable future.