Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

“The scientists and the policymakers who are concerned about climate change are extremely sympathetic to the massive suffering a huge number of people have had through this pandemic. The entire point is that this is what societal change looks like when something changes.”

Helen Czerski

Covid-19 has provided a crucial opportunity to make drastic changes to tackle climate change, experts behind this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lectures have said.

The talks, Planet Earth: A User’s Guide, will take audiences on a deep dive into our planet’s workings, from rock formation and Earth’s ancient climate, to the fundamental role of the oceans and the makeup of the air we breathe.

Each of the three lectures will be presented by a different scientist from a trio of experts: the oceanographer Dr Helen Czerski, environmental scientist Dr Tara Shine and geologist Prof Chris Jackson.

In this year’s Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution, three expert scientists from different fields will present a unique ‘user’s guide’ to Planet Earth. They will unravel astonishing global systems and remarkable natural wonders that combine to keep life on Earth alive.
And then they’ll explore 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’ll learn how we can each help repair the damage we’re doing and live more sustainably, as Earth’s population increases.

In Lecture one, geologist Chris Jackson shows us how the planet’s oldest rocks and fossils tell a story of radical climate changes throughout history and how the Earth’s finely balanced tectonic system – volcanoes – has controlled the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Now though, for the first time, humans are tipping this balance.

In Lecture two, physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski unpicks the Earth’s heating and plumbing systems, showing how shifting ocean water creates an engine that distributes heat and nutrients around our planet. This engine forms the heart of our planetary life support system, and it’s linked to almost every aspect of our existence.

In Lecture three, environmental scientist Tara Shine demonstrates how Earth produces a never-ending supply of oxygen – the raw material for all complex life – and then reveals what’s really in the air we breathe, and why today’s increased carbon emissions are so dangerous to this delicate balance.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films Ltd for BBC Four. Filmed in the iconic lecture theatre at the Royal Institution, they are broadcast on 3 nights between Christmas and New Year.

Image credit: Paul Wilkinson and John Allen


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