How to Build a Habitable Planet
The relationship between human beings and Earth is the central problem of our time; can an understanding of Earth’s history reveal a place for us in a process of planetary evolution that might influence our behavior?The aim of this course is to place human beings in a universal and planetary context. You will learn where we come from beginning with the Big Bang and ending with modern human civilization and our relationship to the planet from which we have evolved and on which we depend. You will understand the factual evidence for the Big Bang, the origin of the elements, plate tectonics, evolution and climate change. From this story a process of planetary evolution emerges and we will consider whether this process is likely to be common or a unique accident. Earth history has been punctuated by a series of revolutions where the planet molts to a new level of functioning. Viewed in this context, human civilization is the latest molting of the planet, giving Earth the possibility of a conscious presence to itself and in the galaxy. Are we as human beings an agent of planetary evolution, or instead a parasite or cancer to planetary systems? This question provides a novel perspective on current environmental problems and how we might deal with them, and moves the question from technology to personal philosophy and behavior. It also casts a different light on the likelihood of alien civilizations and whether we need to fear them. Climate change is seen in a much broader perspective of the relationship between people and Earth, and how our personal behavior is not trivial, but central. Readings include the book How to Build a Habitable Planet, short recorded lectures to deliver the scientific content, and discussion sessions each week to address any difficulties and explore the broader implications for human beings of what we are learning. At the end of this course, you will have a greater understanding of the past, present, and future of the planet we call home, and the planetary consequences of your life decisions.