Critiquing Cosmos - Episode 9

For a show titled "Cosmos," this series sure does spend a lot of time right here on Earth and episode 9 was no exception.  From volcanic peaks to undersea trenches, this episode explored the amazing variety of features found on our planet and the geologic forces which created them.

I loved...

"What's our excuse?": After dancing around the issue for a few weeks, Cosmos finally came out with a stark confrontation of humanity's impact on the global environment.  The basic message of this episode was that, with so many planet-altering forces out of our control, we'd be foolish not to control the one within our grasp: ourselves.  Will it change anyone's mind?  I don't know - the episode also featured many of the phenomena that climate science deniers cling to, such as the natural release of undersea chemicals.

A portrait of the world: As part of their climate change segment, the producers included a stunning series of portraits of peoples from around the world.  It was beautifully rendered and poignantly portrayed the incredible variety of people who must share the Earth.  The implication was clear: the decisions we each make affect every inhabitant of the planet.

Tool use through geology: Talk about the butterfly effect!  The idea that our primate ancestors first used tools because of the far-off influence of a small geologic event is enthralling.  This is evolution at its most grand: tiny, random perturbations in the Universe driving new paradigms for life.  Wow!

I liked...

More exclusive than the Moon: We often think of the moonwalkers as the most exclusive club in the world.  After all, just twelve humans have set foot on the surface of the Moon.  Less well known, at least until tonight, is that even fewer people have traveled to the deepest place in the world.  That's right - just three people have ventured to the depths of the Marianas Trench, nearly 11 km beneath the waves.  And travelling that deep is no less dangerous than setting foot on another world.  In fact, a person would die far faster at the bottom of the ocean than when exposed to the vacuum of space.

Walking through the eons: We've all seen the layers of rock that make up the Earth's crust every time we drive through a road cut.  But that formation in Nova Scotia was incredible.  Amazingly large and remarkably exposed, it really reveals the nature of the world beneath our feet.  And noticing that every step is equal to a thousand years really drives home how slowly the Earth changes.

The influence of far-off worlds: Given the vast distances in space, it is mind-boggling to think that planets like Venus and Jupiter have played a direct role in the evolution of the Earth.  It's a stark reminder of the incredibly interconnected nature of the Universe.

I didn't like...

Only touching on plate tectonics: The development of the theory of plate tectonics is one of the most instructive in the history of science.  Rarely has so much evidence been sitting literally out in the open and yet been ignored by virtually all scientists.  In fact, it wasn't even until the 1970s that a majority of geologists subscribed to the idea.  But, today plate tectonics forms the foundation for our understanding of the evolution of the Earth.  We've even tried to apply its ideas to other planets.  Here's an instance when our preconceived notions trumped our logic for far too long and I wished tonight's episode had explored this a little more.


I think this episode produced one of the most cohesive narratives we've yet seen from Cosmos and it was an important topic to get right.  Just like when addressing evolution, the show stood firm and unequivocal on a controversial subject. Unlike evolution deniers, those who ignore our planet's changing climate imperil us all.  It was great to see that the most important modern science program called it like it is.