4pm, Room 203, Physics Building
Professor Sir David King
Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford
Abstract: Unprecedented improvements in human wellbeing over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been driven largely by developments flowing from advances in engineering, medicine, agriculture and technology, and by political and economic developments coupled to consumerism. But a necessary consequence of these successes has been an equally unprecedented growth in the global population. The twenty first century will be dominated by the challenges posed by a mid-century population of around 9 billion people, all seeking a high standard of living. Ecosystem services, an essential element of our continued wellbeing as a species, are already under threat as our need for food production, fresh water, energy sources, minerals etc. grows exponentially to meet unfettered demand. Climate change, driven by fossil fuel usage and by deforestation, provides the biggest challenge of all, since it requires a collective response of the global population, to mitigate the effect and to manage the growing impacts upon our societies.
Well designed technological solutions are desirable and can be compatible with the continued growth of human wellbeing. The socio-political challenges in directing such a collective response are beyond anything previously managed. This may well lead to a mid-century slide into conflict caused by environmental and resource-driven challenges on a scale not previously experienced. The thesis presented here is that meeting these challenges will require a global cultural and technological transformation on much the same scale as the European Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution itself, and a clear understanding by all societies of the need to adapt and strengthen global governance procedures. Decision making at all levels will require significantly enhanced knowledge and understanding.