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.
With newspapers and T.V. full of trivia, it would seem that the public are not worried about the factors that will cause severe food shortages if urgent action is not taken. Climate change, peak oil, rapidly rising population, soil losses and water shortages are mentioned but there is not the demand for action that should be expected when the survival of our children is at stake.
The most likely explanation is that people feel powerless to do anything meaningful and also they do not want to risk actions that would reduce the fossil energy powered way of life we enjoy. So they put it out of mind or believe any sceptic that argues we have nothing to worry about.
So far as one of the peak food factors , climate change goes, it is frightening to read a book co-written by no less a figure than Sir David King, the previous chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government.
Sir David explains the situation in a way that is easy to understand and he is unequivocal.
For example, he says, “ Human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature over recent decades, and will be responsible for more changes in the future. There are plenty of areas for debate in the global warming story but this is not one of them. If anybody tells you differently they either have a vested interest in ignoring the scientific arguments or they are fools.”
Sir David believes that the only choice we have is to keep greenhouse gasses below 450 ppm CO2eq. He believes that that is still possible because many of the technologies that we will need are already available or are in the pipeline, but we will have to act fast.
The sad fact is that most governments agree with what him and other prominent scientists are saying, but there is no urgent action and critical years are going by.