The Evolution of Fire

Fire is evolving. The three necessary ingredients for fire – heat, fuel, and oxygen – each appeared at different times in geological history, meaning that fire wasn’t always around on Earth’s surface. Fire historian Steve Pyne describes the origin and evolution of fire over the past 420 millions years on Earth, including history’s true Promethean moment.

In a bonus segment, producer Mike Osborne chats with paleoclimate scientist Jud Partin about his new publication exploring the Younger Dryas, the most recent time in Earth’s history to experience abrupt climate change. Hear Jud describe what happened as Earth left the last ice age and why he’s still optimistic about abrupt climate change today.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

Fire recordings by matucha and dynamicell.

The Stakes

Climate change is one of the many defining characteristics of the Anthropocene.  But it’s about more than greenhouse gases, energy consumption, and rising temperatures.  Climate matters because of the ways it interacts with us.  So what is at stake?  On today’s show, we’re looking at those stakes at the global scale.  Our first story is about the link between climate change and human conflict, reaching across the planet and back through human history.  Our second story is about a radical approach that might enable humans to control the climate system – geoengineering.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

Seeds of Change

image taken by CIAT

At the dawn of the agricultural revolution, humans began to tinker with our seeds.  Over millennia, we’ve managed to breed plants for selective traits and grow more food.  As certain crops now dominate our agricultural fields, what will happen to all of those original seeds – and their genetic information – that were used to create our modern food system?  We travel to the extreme northern latitudes and visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to see how they are trying to curate our changing seeds.  In our second story, we see that humans aren’t the only force that tinkers with seeds.  With climate change, certain crops might adapt their own biology to warmer conditions.  Cassava, a major food staple worldwide that feeds over one billion people, has already shown the potential to adapt in a strange way – by producing more cyanide.  We speak with biologist Ros Gleadow to explore the complex relationship with climate change and the changing biology of cassava.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

Hidden Water

Most of the changes scientists see on our planet are either visible to the naked eye or directly measurable.  But changes to our water systems are among the most difficult to see.  In this episode, we travel from the Antarctic ice sheet capturing over 60 percent of all freshwater on Earth, to massive groundwater aquifers that remain particularly elusive, to a freshwater system that acts as the primary economic, cultural, and environmental driver of southern Asia.  In short, we go in search of hidden water.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

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