I discovered this brilliant Channel 4 documentary series late night on TV which tracks man’s struggle with a constantly evolving climate over our last 200,000 years of history. Climate change is not new and the show goes back in time to try and discover how various groups of humans dealt with the challenges of changing weather patterns which affected their ability to feed themselves and have enough water to survive. Some groups were successful in adapting, some weren’t. It will likely be the same story for us in the future, but unlike then, the sheer number of us on the planet today will be another huge factor in how we can adapt. It also highlights how humans have flourished only in the last few thousand years during a period of almost unusual climate stability.
Will the modern human with it’s knowledge base and technology be able to adapt to the now inevitable changes to our climate that are already locked in and will we be smart enough to avoid the more disastrous changes that are on the cards if we don’t change our ways.
I unfortunately cannot embed the videos so you’ll have to click the link on the episode heading but the copy and paste job of the episode description should help.
Tony Robinson explores how a small group of our earliest African ancestors were rescued from extinction by the last great global warming 130,000 years ago. The barren landscape surrounding the oases in which they lived was transformed to lush savannah, enabling them to traverse the continent and eventually make it to Europe. As temperatures rose, so they would also later fall: in the Russia steppes Dr Joy Singarayer finds out how the European Homo Sapiens adapted to survive the last great Ice Age. But not all humans coped so well. In Gibraltar, Tony finds the last resting place of our Neanderthal ‘cousins’. Lacking our ‘social brains’, which enabled us to trade and get help from outsiders, the Neanderthals starved, dying out in lonely communities, and even resorting to cannibalism.
Tony Robinson traces how global warming at the end of the last Ice Age was the catalyst for the dawn of civilisation, but also unleashed devastation. Twelve thousand years ago our planet emerged from the last great Ice Age, with temperatures rising by five degrees in just a few decades. After 190,000 years living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were forced to change with the world around them. In Europe the rise in temperature unleashed an agricultural revolution, while in North Africa around 7,000 years ago a savage drought led Saharan refugees to settle along the River Nile. In the limited space they had to learn new skills and form new social structures, going on to found the Kingdom of Egypt. Five hundred years later this same global warming triggered catastrophe as Canadian ice sheets containing 900,000 trillion tonnes of water melted into the Atlantic, causing massive flooding. In less than a year Britain was amputated from mainland Europe, and the Black Sea was formed, washing out the pioneer farmers from that region. What happened to the people that had cultivated this fertile land changed the future of the continent.
Tony Robinson picks through the ruins of three great civilisations from the last 2,000 years to ask what made these civilisations more vulnerable to climate catastrophe than the ones who survived. In the jungles of Central America he investigates how decades-long drought brought the advanced Mayan civilisation to an apocalyptic end, resorting to human sacrifices to plead to their gods for salvation. Dr Joy Singarayer travels to the extraordinary landscape of Greenland to discover how the mini-Ice Age of the 13th century wiped out the ‘advanced’ Vikings, while their ‘savage’ Inuit neighbours developed new tools and strategies to stay alive. Meanwhile, in the deserts of America’s southwest, Dr Jago Cooper investigates the climate crisis that made the Puebloan inhabitants of extraordinary cliff cities homeless 750 years ago.
Tony Robinson examines societies similar to our own, who not only survived climate change, but flourished. In Peru the Hauri people embraced a savage drought, developed advanced techniques of water management and founded a great empire, itself the basis of the great Inca nation. In Europe, Tony learns how a mini-Ice Age triggered the Black Death; but rather than cripple medieval Europe it launched a period of unprecedented progression. The Industrial Revolution and globalisation were hastened by the benefits of a stable climate, but Tony also learns how this stability appears to be ending, bringing a new threat to human societies.