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10
DEC

The China Syndrome

Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place?

Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it.

Programme Three:
Roland Pease hears from Kenya where one of the most stringent bans on plastic bags has been in force for nearly two years, from the US where the reuseable cup has taken off and from Sweden where reverse vending machines give you money back when you return your plastic bottles. And he looks at places where plastic is the best material for the job.

Picture: Bike loaded with empty plastic bottles. Shanghai China, Credit: typhoonski/Getty Images
03
DEC

How Much Plastic Can We Recycle?

Plastics are fantastically versatile materials that have changed our lives. It is what we do with them, when we no longer want them, that has resulted in the global plastic crisis. Mark Miodownik explores our love hate relationship with plastics.

Programme Two: Things begin to go stale
Plastic waste has been a global crisis waiting to happen. To date it's estimated that around 8.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic exists. That's 25 Empire State Buildings or 1 billion elephants. Incredibly around half of this has been generated in just the last 14 years, despite mass production having begun in the 1950s.

Events such as China's recent refusal to take any more "foreign rubbish" from the west and Sir David Attenborough's graphic portrayal of the devastation that plastic waste is causing in our oceans, has prompted political and media discussion like never before. We are at a critical moment where, if we're to turn the tide on plastic pollution, it will require science and society to come together to create real change. But it won't be easy. One major area that needs an overhaul is recycling. In the UK only 14% of plastic collected is recycled. Europe tends to burn our waste for energy, and plastic has a calorific value similar to that of coal. But proponents of the circular economy say we should never consider plastic as waste at all and we should think of it as 'Buried Sunshine' - a resource that needs conserving - by reusing and recycling again and again.

Picture: Production line for the processing of plastic waste in the factory, Credit: Getty Images
26
NOV

Why We Fell In Love with Plastic

Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place?

Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it.

Programme One: First Flush of Love
We may not be on speaking terms right now. But we do have a love affair with plastic, in fact it can be all consuming. Adaptable, lightweight, cheap and hygienic - fantastic plastics started to win our affection back in the late 19th century. Bakelite was an early plastic invented to replace expensive wood. Celluloid was one of the earliest plastics, failing to replace ivory in billiard balls, but revolutionising the world as movie film.

Plastic really did change our world. Plastic radar insulation played a role in helping the Allied forces win the Second World War and after the conflict, factories start to churn out cheap, mass-produced goods in the new synthetic polymers. But some of the key virtues of plastic may now have paradoxically poisoned the relationship. Being virtually indestructible, has led to a build-up of toxic micro-plastic in the oceans and environment. We've grown to regard many plastics as cheap and disposable, we take it for granted, rely on it too much, value it too little and are too ready to cast it aside after one single use.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Picture: The Bakelite Museum, Credit: Getty Images
19
NOV

Finding the Coelacanths

The first Coelacanth was discovered by a woman in South Africa in 1938. The find, by the young museum curator, was the fish equivalent of discovering a T- Rex on the Serengeti, it took the Zoological world by storm. Presenter Adam Hart tells the story of this discovery, and the steps taken by Coelacanth biologists in the decades since to find more fish, in other populations, and record them for science. Adam hears personal accounts from a deep diver who swam with Coelacanths, Eve Marshall, conservationist Dr Mark Erdman, and geneticist Professor Axel Meyer.

Picture: 3 Coelacanths at 116 metres depth in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, Credit: Eve Marshall

Producer: Rory Galloway
12
NOV

The Big Bang and Jet Streams

Evidence for the big bang was initially thought to be a mistake in the recording. Jet streams in the upper atmosphere were revealed by the dust emitted by Krakatoa and a collection of interested citizen scientists. In the second three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, presenter Adam Hart explores two stories of unexpected observations. Sometimes accidental discoveries are bigger than you might expect.

Picture: Moonlit Coast, Credit: shaunl/Getty Images
05
NOV

The Genius of Accidents: Viagra and CRISPR

Viagra’s effects on men were first discovered as an unexpected side-effect during trials for a medication meant to help patients with a heart condition. CRISPR cas– 9 is now a tool that can be used to modify and replace genes – but it was first noted as a random collection of genes. In the first of three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, Professor Adam Hart explores how, sometimes, the results you’re looking for are not as important as those that appear unexpectedly.

Picture: Test Tubes, Credit: Grafner/Getty Images

Producer: Rory Galloway
29
OCT

Tracking the First Animals on Earth

What were the earliest animals on Earth? The origin of the animal kingdom is one of the most mysterious chapters in the evolution of life on Earth. Our animal ancestors appeared and began to diversify about half a billion years ago. What might they have looked like, and which creatures alive today can be traced to these primordial times? Answers are beginning to come with new techniques for both studying ancient fossils and for reading evolutionary history from the DNA of animals alive today. Zoologist Professor Matthew Cobb explores the latest discoveries and controversies with the researchers on the trail of the Earth’s first animals.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Picture: Artists impression of Dickinsonia, Credit: Nasa
29
OCT

Mary Anning and Fossil Hunting

Mary Anning lived in Lyme Regis on what is now known as the Jurassic Coast in the first half of the 19th century. Knowing the shore from childhood and with a remarkable eye for detection she was extremely successful in finding fossils. In 1812 she unearthed parts of an Icthyosaur and in 1823 she discovered the first skeleton of what became known as a Plesiosaurus – a long-necked, flippered creature with a tiny head. It looked a bit like an elongated turtle with no shell.



Naomi Alderman tells the science story of how Mary Anning, a poor and relatively uneducated young woman, became the supplier of the best fossils to the gentlemen geologists who were beginning to understand that the earth was very old and had been inhabited by strange extinct creatures. Naomi talks to Tracy Chevalier, author of Remarkable Creatures, a novel about Mary Anning, about her life and relationship with the geologists of the time, and to Dr Susannah Maidment, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, about fossil hunting today.

Image: Lyme Regis, from Charmouth, Dorset 1814-1825 by William Daniell (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
22
OCT

Cooling the City

The summer of 2003 saw the largest number of deaths ever recorded in a UK heatwave - but by 2040 climate models predict the extreme summer temperatures experienced then will be normal. We will also be experiencing colder winters, and droughts and floods will become more common.

Our infrastructure, housing, water, sewerage, transport and public buildings are not designed for such conditions. Gaia Vince asks how we can adapt and prepare our cities, where most people live and work, for the new normal weather conditions.

New buildings in temperate climates are now designed with keeping us warm in mind, better insulation, more efficient heating and airtight glazing. However when it comes to overheating these measures designed to keep out the cold can be part of the problem.

Can we adapt solutions from other countries where extreme heat is a more usual seasonal event?

Will we simply have to change the way we organise our day to keep out of the heat? Is the real answer for mad dogs and Englishmen to take a siesta?

Picture: Wood thermometer, Credit: Ugurhan/Getty Images
15
OCT

Tourism and Transparency

In the second programme exploring the Chinese approach to organ transplantation, Matthew Hill looks at what is happening today. Where are the organs coming from today? Have the Chinese overcome their traditional opposition to donating them? There is still a lack of transparency about the sources. Some critics have suggested that there is still a trade in organs and there are reports that transplant tourism is still going on. Matthew Hill talks to Chinese and international transplant doctors about the current situation.

Picture: Asian surgeons in the operating room, Shanghai, China, Credit: Asia-Pacific Images Studio/Getty Images
08
OCT

Who To Believe?

For many years the Chinese sourced organs for transplant from executed prisoners. Around a decade ago the authorities acknowledged that this practice had gone on and announced that it was to be stopped. In the first programme exploring the Chinese approach to organ transplantation Matthew Hill tells the grim story of the revelation of the source of organs, he meets a surgeon with first-hand experience of removing organs from executed prisoners. We talk to campaigners who believe the practice is still going on, they allege religious and ethnic minority groups in China are now a source for an illicit trade in human organs. Officially the practice of using organs for transplant from executed Prisoners ceased in 2015, China now has an organ donation registry and say the majority of organs come from people who die in intensive care units, however questions remain over whether this source is sufficient for the number of transplants performed.

Picture: Asian surgeons in the operating room, Shanghai, China, Credit: Asia-Pacific Images Studio/Getty Images
01
OCT

The Long Hot Summer (part 2)

This summer the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering in unusually high temperatures. It’s been hot from the Arctic to Africa. This has led to increased deaths, notably in Canada, and more wildfires, even in Lancashire and in Sweden. Can we say that this heatwave – and the extreme drought in Australia - is a result of climate change? Or is just part of the variable weather patterns we have on our planet?

Roland Pease gets answers to these questions from the world’s leading climate and weather scientists. He picks apart the influences of the jet stream, the El Nina and the Atlantic decadal oscillation from that of global warming.

Image: Arctic Pack Ice near Svalbard, Norway
Credit: Bkamprath/Getty Images

393 episodes

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