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DVD Review: How the Earth Changed History

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There’s never been any doubt that the natural history of the planet has largely shaped how human history took place. Evidence is emerging that the planet has played an even bigger role than first thought in our historical events, with weather patterns, geological forces, and other natural elements tilting their respective hands to change the tide.

The BBC’s How the Earth Changed History examines the role the planet has played in the unfurling of the great human experience. The series, a five-episode experience put together by the BBC and National Geographic, features vivid, astonishing scenery and intelligent discussion.

The series is hosted by geologist Iain Steward. Fans will remember him from Earth: The Biography. His Scottish brogue brings a sense of earthiness to the series and his passion for the subjects he covers is contagious.

With spellbinding HD camerawork, How the Earth Changed History is awe-inspiring. It is truly a visual treat, as the fascinating vistas explored take shape with Steward’s narration. Whether exploring the power of the wind or expressing wonder at the sheer magnitude of the world’s water, the series captivates and entertains.

The series explores how our “mastery” of the natural elements has had an inevitable impact on the way the world is. The way we split mountains in half or build piles of garbage in the oceans has a direct effect on our survival in this world and Steward doesn’t sugarcoat the realities. Global warming is an unavoidable byproduct of our excessive need to dominate the natural world.

Certain segments of the series prove especially fascinating. Steward’s visit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was particularly interesting. He takes us through the “spare copies” of seeds from every country on the planet, informing us that the Vault’s purpose to provide an agricultural safety net in the event of global environmental calamity should not be understated.

The series is spread out over two DVDs. There is a behind-the-scenes style interview with Steward, too. It sheds some light on some of the difficulties in filming the series and shares some of the geologist’s most compelling moments.

The series doesn’t have the scope or sweep of the famed Planet Earth, of course, but is a powerful and profound series nevertheless. It more than explores its thesis, expertly meshing both human history and natural history to shed light on the constant, unavoidable intersection between our human lives and the natural world we are a part of.

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