Neal’s Yard: Annual Lecture 2013

This time last week we hosted this exciting event bringing together two renowned thinkers and doers, two people who have given a lot of thought as to how our planet and its inhabitants are going to need to live in the future.

The background to the debate are concerns about the growth in the world’s population. Whilst there are signs that maybe it is beginning to slow, the reality is that we have too many people living on this planet if we all expect to consume in the way that we do in the West.

A number of economists and researchers believe we will struggle to support 5 billion, however whether 5 or 9 billion by 2050, in the end we only have one planet. As Nobel physicist Robert Langlin says the “earth didn’t replace dinosaurs after they died she just moved on and became something different”.

Earth will survive us, but what a waste! We need to move beyond our usual way of responding as human beings, which is to think in a series of short-term actions- we need to look to the long term. We also need to be prepared to give some things up and to do things differently. What the debate did was to open up some of the issues by not only considering population growth but what that means as more and more of the worlds poor are rightly pulled up out of poverty.

Is sustained growth and limited resources an oxymoron? How do you confront population growth? Do we need radical approaches and thinking, nationalised land, wildlife corridors, new economic models, empowerment and education of women?

The debate was thought provoking because we had 2 speakers who not only spend their lives addressing these questions but neither of them are afraid to express their views- to speak truth to power.

Professor Anthony (Tony) Ryan OBE, as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Science at the University of Sheffield, as author of “Project Sunshine: How science can use the sun to fuel and feed the world” has great insight into how we find ourselves where we are today and on the key points of transition in our occupation of the planet to date and will set this out this evening.

Tony Juniper, author of ‘What has nature ever done for us?’ brings a political perspective, through the nature of how he has engaged with the environment and sustainability over the years, as a Special Adviser to the Prince of Wales Charities’ International Sustainability Unit and Senior Associate with the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

It’s worth thinking about what actions we should take as individuals.