Exploring The Human-Ape Paradox

CARTA’s Fall 2020 symposium, Comparative Anthropogeny: Exploring the Human Ape-Paradox, examines humans as a uniquely evolved, “biologically enculturated,” species as juxtaposed with our closest living relatives, the “great apes” (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans). By definition, each species is unique as it represents the outcome of independent evolution. Yet, humans appear to be a remarkable outlier as we have numerous characteristics so far un-described in any other primate. Why should this be? Unlike other species, the evident animal nature of humans is interwoven with a distinctly human cultural fabric, forming the paradox of “biological enculturation”: a species that is both “biologically cultural” and “culturally biological.” In humans, “biological enculturation” is so pervasive that disentangling the cultural and biological components is impossible.

This symposium brings together experts in various disciplines from around the globe to address several important distinctly human “biologically enculturated” characteristics, both in relation to each other and in contrast to our evolutionary cousins. They explore transdisciplinary interactions and generate new, potentially unexplored, insights into uniquely-human specializations.

Given the interest in understanding our evolution, this symposium also helps organize how and in what sequence distinctly human physical, mental, social, and cultural features evolved. Such understanding may help explain the origin of our species and how it came to now directly shape the planet, giving rise to the Anthropocene, the epoch of human influence on climate and the environment.

Browse more programs in CARTA – Comparative Anthropogeny – Exploring The Human-Ape Paradox.

Scientific and Social Activism

Please join us for an intimate discussion with eminent microbiologist and geneticist Jon Beckwith of Harvard Medical School. Beckwith is the author of Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science. He discusses the history of scientific and social activism and the teaching of social issues in biology.

Along with having a successful scientific career, Jon Beckwith has been one of the scientific community’s most influential champions of social justice and civil liberties. He has openly supported the Black Panther Movement and was among the first in his field to warn the world about the danger of genetic engineering. He has over 50 publications dealing with issues such as discrimination and misuse of behavior genetics. He was a member of the Working Group on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications committee of the Human Genome Project and was an important organizer of the international organization, Science for the People. Since 1983, he has taught a course on Social Issues in Biology at Harvard University, one of the first courses of its kind.

Watch A Deep Conversation with Jon Beckwith: A History of Scientific and Social Activism and the Teaching of Social Issues in Biology.

Bending the Curve: Climate Change Solutions

Climate change is an urgent problem that affects everything from human health and food security to immigration patterns and water resources.

With unchecked emissions of climate pollutants, there is a 50% probability for the planetary warming to cross the so-called dangerous threshold of 20C by 2050; and there is at least a 5% probability the warming can exceed a catastrophic 60C in about 80+ years.

Climate scientists study more than Earth’s changing climate. They are an integral part of coming up with solutions for both mitigating and adapting to these human-caused changes. Join world renowned scientist Ram Ramanathan for insight into a multifaceted education program, Bending the Curve, which inspires action on climate solutions. The groundbreaking program is offered at all University of California campuses and internationally. Learn how he and colleagues around the world are educating students at every level to become climate warriors.

Watch Bending the Curve: Climate Change Solutions.

Oceans Out of Breath

Scripps climate scientist Yassir Eddebbar takes you on an exploration of the ocean’s interior to reveal a fascinating phenomenon – oxygen minimum zones (OMZs).

Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) are regions of the global ocean that present low dissolved oxygen concentrations. Although they represent only a small fraction of the global ocean volume, they are considered to be an important sink for fixed nitrogen, contributing 30-50% of the oceanic nitrogen removal. They are important sources of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O), the latter also involved in the destruction of stratospheric ozone.

Focusing on his work in the tropical Pacific, Eddebbar explains what causes OMZs, how they are likely to change in response to climate change, and their potential to impact marine ecosystems and fisheries as climate warms.

Watch Oceans Out of Breath: Oxygen Minimum Zones in a Warming Climate.

Climate Change Making Allergies Worse

People with allergies know that daily weather determines symptoms and that symptoms vary by season. Dr. Katherine Gundling, an allergy and immunology specialist at UCSF, looks at how the warming of our planet might affect allergic respiratory disease. What is emerging from data collected at pollen counting stations around the world is that the length of pollen season is increasing, starting earlier and ending later, especially in higher latitude and higher elevations. As temperatures increase pollen concentrations rise. And increasing temperature may also cause pollen to be more potent.

There are similar indicators that climate change is increasing mold growth. Of particular concern are indoor molds that propagate in wet environments. As sea levels rise and flooding and humidity increase, so too does mold exposure which can cause severe asthma reactions, especially in children who are more vulnerable.

The good news is that we know what to do. Climate change solutions are also solutions to improving health disparities and allergic respiratory disease.

Watch Impacts of Our Changing Climate on Allergic Respiratory Disease.