Critiquing Cosmos - Episode 12

Well, there you have it.  If you thought that Cosmos wouldn't take climate change head on, you haven't been watching for the last three months.  By my count, this is actually the third episode at least partially devoted to the subject and it's certainly the most direct.  Let's take a look at how they did.

I loved...

"It's a pretty tight case": Let's just get this out of the way right at the start - "The World Set Free" is everything that climate change advocates could have hoped for.  It was a triple play: an explanation of the basic science, a full-throated rebuttal of the basic denials, and an exhortation to grab the bull by the horns and do what needs to be done.  Bravo!

Weather vs. climate: No argument against climate change is more prevalent or more foolish than "...but, we just had a really cold winter..." and Cosmos illustrated this perfectly. I loved the imagery of the meandering dog on the beach.  The difference between instantaneous and average values was strikingly clear.

"...not because they are easy...": In a show nominally about the wonders of space, what a great way to end the episode with a callback to the bold proclamation that launched perhaps our greatest technological achievement.  Although I don't know if Kennedy's words will be as instantly recognizable outside of the United States, the audacity of his message cannot help but resonate within us.

I liked...

The Earth breathing: What a poetic concept!  This global expression of our planet's ecosystem drives home the notion that we really are all in this together.  Logging in Canada or Brazil affects farming in South Africa.  Pollution in China or the United States clogs the skies of London.

Our planet's diary: Ice cores are pretty much the coolest thing ever, aren't they?  Eight hundred thousand years ago, man was still using stone hand axes to hack the flesh from the bones of beasts, yet today we can recover a record of what their world was like.  Of course, ice saves both the good and the bad: every ice core collected since the 1950s has a distinct band of elements like chlorine-36.  The source? Surface nuclear testing, now preserved forever in the history of the Earth.

Seeing the shore erode: Wow, 50 feet of erosion a year is a shocking amount, and seeing it in time lapse form really reinforced this.  The shorelines of the Earth are literally melting away.  Makes me a little glad to be here in Colorado!

I didn't like...

A temperature map of the Earth: I'm not sure that the historical temperature map really accomplished what the writers were intending.  As illustrated far better with the dog, yearly temperature variations can seem pretty random.  Unlike with the dog on the beach, however, the overall trend didn't really start to shine through until we began projecting fifty years in the future.

War interrupting progress: Sometimes, especially in medicine, war can be a remarkable driver of scientific advancement.  That makes it even more heartbreaking to see the chance for widespread acceptance of solar power slip away.  Solar collectors could have irrigated parts of the Sahara and powered vast tracts of a continent in need. Instead, North Africa became a battlefield for two world wars.  Unlike the wealthier Europe, it never fully recovered.


With next week's finale "Unafraid of the Dark" sure to bring the series to a resounding close, last night's episode was probably the last one focused on a single topic.  With the largest audience for a science program in recent history, Cosmos has used its platform to confront head-on the myths of our time.  I can't wait to see how it ends.