Throughout its long history, life has been a force of planetary transformation, remaking the air, the rocks, the landscapes, even painting the color of the sky and increasing the variety of Earth’s minerals. But are the histories of life and Earth just one thing after another, or is there an underlying pattern that we can make sense of? In this SFI Community Lecture, Olivia P. Judson argued that there is a pattern, and that life-Earth history can be understood as a sequence of five epochs, each of which corresponds to the evolution of lifeforms that can access a new source of energy. With each new epoch, the diversity of life has become greater, ecosystems have become richer, and life has increased its impact on the planet. This framework of energy expansions provides a way to think about current human impacts upon the Earth—and about the probable trajectories of life-planet systems elsewhere in the cosmos.
Judson is an evolutionary biologist and award-winning science journalist and author. She has written for a variety of international news outlets and her book, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation (Metropolitan Books, 2003), is an award-winning international bestseller. The book was also adapted to a TV show that aired in the UK, Canada, Australia, and France. She is presently a research fellow at Imperial College London.
This talk was not recorded.