About: Planet Earth: A user's guide

In three lectures Chris, Helen and Tara reveal the hidden wonders of Earth that keep us all alive and explore the impact of human activity on our planet.

  • helen czerski, chris jackson and tara shine resting their elbows on a round table and having a chat

    Helen Czerski, Chris Jackson and Tara Shine

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson and John Allen

Our planet is travelling at 30km/s around our Sun, which is travelling at 250km/s around the centre of the Milky Way, which is zooming at over 2 million km/h into deep space.

The only reason we can survive this epic cosmic voyage is because Earth is equipped with everything we need to survive. Our home planet creates an endless supply of food, water and oxygen. It maintains a perfect temperature for our bodies and recycles our waste. It even shelters us from cosmic storms and asteroids on our dangerous journey through the universe.

In this year’s Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution, three expert scientists from different fields will present a unique ‘user’s guide’ to Planet Earth. They will unravel astonishing global systems and remarkable natural wonders that combine to keep life on Earth alive.

And then they’ll explore how human activity has become an overwhelming geological force – disrupting the finely tuned systems that have kept our planet running smoothly for billions of years. We’ll learn how we can each help repair the damage we’re doing and live more sustainably, as Earth’s population increases.

Each of these world-famous Lectures from the Royal Institution will bring to life one aspect of Earth’s inner workings:

In Lecture one, geologist Chris Jackson shows us how the planet’s oldest rocks and fossils tell a story of radical climate changes throughout history and how the Earth’s finely balanced tectonic system – volcanoes – has controlled the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Now though, for the first time, humans are tipping this balance.

In Lecture two, physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski unpicks the Earth’s heating and plumbing systems, showing how shifting ocean water creates an engine that distributes heat and nutrients around our planet. This engine forms the heart of our planetary life support system, and it’s linked to almost every aspect of our existence. 

In Lecture three, environmental scientist Tara Shine demonstrates how Earth produces a never-ending supply of oxygen – the raw material for all complex life – and then reveals what’s really in the air we breathe, and why today’s increased carbon emissions are so dangerous to this delicate balance.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films Ltd for BBC Four. Filmed in the iconic lecture theatre at the Royal Institution, they are broadcast on 3 nights between Christmas and New Year.