Did climate change drive human evolution?

Anthropologist Rick Potts, who heads the human origins department at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, has been pushing the idea that “climate made us” for years…

“The explanations that we’ve had tied human origins back to an African savannah or to a European ice age,” Potts says, “and it was never really adequate to understand the plasticity, the versatility of the human species.”…

Darwin’s idea was that living things adapt to a place — a habitat.

But Potts says habitats kept changing because climates kept changing. Centuries of drought, for example, would shift to centuries of monsoons, over and over. Which raises a question, Potts says: “Not how did humans become adapted to a specific ancestral environment, but how did we become adaptable?” Extraordinarily adaptable to so many different environments.

“And that’s a totally new question,” he says, “one that Darwin never really addressed.”