In the first half, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Santa Barbara, Brian Fagan discussed the history of humans and climate change and how people have adapted including during the Little Ice Age-- a 500-year-period ending with the Industrial Revolution. The Little Ice Age was marked by great fluctuations of temperature-- there was a five-year period that was so cold that they held ice fairs on the River Thames in London. This time frame in the 1700s correlated with a lack of sunspot activity, he noted, and led to crop failures that caused malnutrition and hardship for many. He also talked about a "year without summer" that occurred after the 1816 eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano, which catapulted an enormous amount of ash into the atmosphere and led to widespread famine.
Climate patterns around the world are intricately connected. Monsoons are tied to the El Nino cycle, but when this doesn't occur, millions can be affected, he reported. In 1877, 1.5 million people in India died after a lack of monsoon rains dried out their crops. Rather than part of a natural cycle, Fagan has concluded that Earth's current global warming has been brought about by man-made activity such as through coal, fossil fuels, deforestation, and environmental modifications and exploitation. He foresees a bleak future ahead for our planet unless a massive effort is launched to turn the tide.
In the latter half, writer, lecturer, and expert on space-related topics, Frank White talked about space exploration and our place in the cosmos. Coining the term the Overview Effect, he believes that the experience of seeing the Earth from orbit or the moon can alter humanity's perceptions of our home world and create a greater sense of unity, allowing us to see past our divisions. His newer 'Cosma Hypothesis' draws on the Overview Effect and the Gaia concept, and posits that humanity's purpose is to spread life, intelligence, and self-awareness through the universe.
We've entered an exciting era, where private space companies and entrepreneurs have become entranced with the idea of human space settlements, and NASA has begun to embrace these efforts to work in tandem with their projects. Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic are talking about democratizing access to space so that it won't just be the 'one-percenters' that get to experience it, he remarked. White foresees humans becoming a new species – "homo spaciens" who adapt to new conditions and don't plan to return to Earth. In the shorter term, he's pondered the idea of assisted living facilities in space-- the more weightless conditions might alleviate the vexing problem of the elderly falling down.