On the evening of the nineteenth of January 2010, The City Food Lecture was held at the Guildhall in London. The main speaker was Sir David King who was the government’s chief scientific adviser for seven years.
Sir David spoke about the huge challenges that we face and how they interconnect. He said that in the past when a population had overworked and misused their land, they could move on to fresh land. We can no longer do that. We have ploughed the last furrow.
He mentioned that we entered the twentieth century with 1.5 billion people and left it with 6 billion and that we can be fairly certain that the 8 billion mark will be passed before 2030 because the people who will breed the extra numbers had already been born.
Those numbers will have a knock-on effect on other aspects of life on this planet.
Climate change, Sir David thought, is influenced by human activity. We are using a set of resources much faster than they can be replaced or new ones found. Food production would be under severe pressure and water would be in short supply.
He said that if the forests were the left lung of the world, then the oceans were the right lung and we are in danger of losing some of that capacity to absorb CO2 and release oxygen. If present trends continue, by mid century the oceans will be bereft of large fish.
He suggested that resource shortages could cause conflict and terrorism and even speculated that the Iraq War might one day be identified as the first resource war of the 21st century.
He gave examples of projects where desertification was being reversed but he said that in democracies there is a disconnect between what we understand is necessary and government action which is usually delayed until it’s almost too late.