Anthropology, Biology, Books for the News

Climate change and human evolution

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NPR’s Morning Edition recently aired an interesting piece that investigates the next big trend amongst evolutionary scientists to explore how climate change has effected human evolution—a project recently endorsed by a panel of experts from National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
In the piece reporter Christopher Joyce talks with several experts on the subject including Smithsonian Anthropologist Rick Potts, curator of a recent exhibit titled “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” The exhibit offers climate change as perhaps the most important factor influencing evolution, especially the evolution of the genus homo over the last 2.5 million years or so.
Anticipating this trend in the evolutionary sciences by nearly a decade, William H. Calvin’s 2002 A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change offers one of the most thorough explorations of the topic, taking readers around the globe and back in time to demonstrate how climatic cycles of cool, crash, and burn, provided the impetus for enormous increases in the intelligence and complexity of human beings. And with the recent warnings of more climatic catastrophe to come, Calvin’s book not only offers a look at our evolutionary past, but perhaps at our future as well.
Navigate to the NPR website to listen to the show, or read an excerpt from A Brain for All Seasons.