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Sir Peter Kent Lecture 2011

Climate Change as a Global Shifting Force

Held at the Geological Society on 7 January 2010.

Sir David King is the Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford.  He was the UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office of Science from October 2000 to December 2007.  In that capacity, he was instrumental in raising the profile of climate change as a major global problem, and the need for governments to act.  In addition to advising on a wide range of issues, he was closely involved in the development of the Government's Science and Innovation Strategy 2004-2014.

Sir David talked about meeting the twin challenges of climate change and socio-economic development in the context of growing global population.

The Sir Peter Kent Lecture is the Geological Society's flagship annual lecture on science policy matters.  It is aimed at building an understanding in the Earth science community of the role of science in policy matters, and at stimulating dialogue between this community and policy-makers.  In addition to invited guests, a limited number of places were made available on application to Fellows, Friends of the Geological Society, and others with an interest in Earth science and public policy.

You can now view this presentation online.


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.