One of the UK's leading scientists warned of the serious consequences of climate change at the first annual Earthwatch Oxford lecture.
Lord May, a former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government (1995-2000) and president of the Royal Society, warned that climate change was 'the biggest problem humans have ever faced'. He was speaking to an invited audience of 200 people, including Earthwatch's key corporate partners and Oxford academics. The lecture was held at Oxford's Said Business School on April 20, on the occasion of Earthwatch's 35th anniversary.
Lord May, who holds a professorship jointly at Oxford University's Department of Zoology and Imperial College, London, spoke of a potential tenfold increase in extinction rates by the end of the present century. In his lecture, Hard Choices for Tomorrow's World, he touched on subjects ranging from patterns of health to increasing energy, food and water shortages and our reliance on fossil fuels. He spoke of the implications of our 'human ecological footprint' for other species and insisted that we accept the warning that global temperatures are set to rise by an average of three degrees centigrade within decades.
"Although we have to be wary of messages of doom, the worst of times are looming," said Lord May.
Referring to the carbon blanket around the planet, he suggested that until around 1780, when humans started burning fossil fuels, the carbon blanket had remained remarkably steady.
Lord May also offered insights into world population growth. The present world population of six and a half billion is set to increase to nine billion by 2050 - an unprecedented growth rate.
An international award winner for his pioneering research into ecology and biodiversity, Lord May suggested there were no easy answers to the problem of global warming. But he added that we must not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem.
"The problems may be global, but the answers have to be national and, ultimately, local - and down to the individual. It is hard to predict what aggregates of individuals, as distinct to large organisations, can do."
The next Earthwatch debate, Climate Change - the Truth on Trial, will be held at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 26 October. Sir Crispin Tickell will chair the debate. Entrance is free but by ticket only. For more information or to reserve your place, email email@example.com, or phone +44 (0)1865 318856.