Challenges of the 21st century: what is happening to the world?

Many eminent scientists are telling us the same messages about the challenges facing Spaceship Earth and its crew. This lecture (link here) was given on 6 February 2014 at the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath in England by Sir John Bennington (see biography below). Thanks to Bill Scott’s blog (here) for the link.

Abstract: Change in the 21st century is both fast and dramatic. Yet in many ways some problems for the next few decades are both predictable and inexorable. Significant challenges exist driven by population growth, complex demography, urbanisation and increasing prosperity, all with a background of significant poverty. Climate change is happening, will continue and is a major risk multiplier. The lecture will cover these issues and examine some of the ways in which these challenges can be addressed.


Sir John Beddington was from 2008 until 2013 the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) reporting directly to the Prime Minister. As GCSA, he led on providing scientific advice to Government during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the 2010 volcanic ash incident and the emergency at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. As GCSA, he was also responsible for increasing the scientific capacity across Whitehall by encouraging all major departments of state to recruit a Chief Scientific Adviser. In 2008 Sir John raised the concept of the ‘Perfect Storm’ of food, energy and water security in the context of mitigating and adapting to climate change. He continues to work in the area. During 2011 he chaired an International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change and recently took on the Co-chairmanship of an International Commission on Agriculture and Nutrition. He is the Senior Adviser to the Oxford Martin School and Professor of Natural Resource Management at Oxford University. Amongst other activities he is a Non-Executive Director of the Met Office, a Trustee of the Natural History Museum and President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

One thought on “Challenges of the 21st century: what is happening to the world?”

  1. The second half of this authoritative presentation (starting 33 minutes in) is most relevant to Spaceship Earth issues after Sir John explores, with gentle humour, how the UK government assesses future risks by means of a National Risk Register. There are many outstanding slides that can be used as teaching resources and his focus on projections to 2030, only 16 years from now, really focuses the mind on the speed at which human impact is moving. For example, 6 million people evey month will add over a billion extra ‘passengers’ on our planetary home and mean 38% more food will be needed; 40% more water; 54% more energy. Meanshile 37% more greenhouse gases will be added to the atmosphere. These changes are already determined by the facts and are not fanciful conjecture! The lecture also illustrates how press coverage and policy decisions wildly distort the scientific evidence, e.g. about the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.


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