This week’s COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey takes us on a journey through 350 million years of climate change. Dramatic atmospheric shifts created human life as we know it today through a constant process of demolition and rebuilding, a violent past that wiped out all life hundreds of millions of years ago as the Earth’s temperature swung between subzero temperatures and millennia of extreme heat.
About 10,000 years ago, the manic swings of the climate and sea levels finally came to a stop, ushering in a new age of gentler climates that fostered humans’ discovery of agriculture on the delta plains. The Earth is still in the middle of its interglacial period of peace, set to last another 50,000 years. Our climate is supposed to be the at its healthiest and most stable point in history, but it’s still in flux.
However, there’s one big difference between the shifting climates of past millennia and our changing Earth today. A new scourge is destroying our climate in its peak period of stability – mankind’s consumption of fossil fuels.
“If we could, we’d be home free, climate-wise,” Neil deGrasse Tyson says in the episode. “Instead, we’re dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn’t seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions.”
Our fossil fuel addiction is dragging our environment back into upheaval, bringing back an climate last seen when dinosaurs walked the earth. Our ancestors survived centuries of radical climate changes to build the civilization that our energy consumption is jeopardizing, endangering our homes, food sources and general way of life. , one that will tear down our a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves.
Tyson leaves us with chilling words of warning, invoking the fate of another dominant species doomed by a changing climate. “The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What’s our excuse?”
Learn more about climate change on tonight’s COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey at 9P.