Sir Crispin Tickell on the chances of human survival

Sir Crispin Tickell, the environmentalist and academic, visited the University to deliver the 2008 Kennedy Lecture, hosted by the New Generation Society, on the subject of “Challenges to the Human Future: Prospects and Hazards”. interviewed him

Sir Crispin Tickell, the environmentalist and academic, visited the University to deliver the 2008 Kennedy Lecture, hosted by the New Generation Society, on the subject of “Challenges to the Human Future: Prospects and Hazards”.

As a taster of what he believes the future holds, he casually mentioned at the beginning of our interview that “the current president of the Royal Society gives our civilization only a 50% chance of survival.” Prior to his speech, Sir Crispin’s thoughts seemed to centre more around the looming hazards than the diminishing prospects in our society.

From this cheery introduction Sir Crispin proceeded to talk about issues like climate change, consumerism, overpopulation and what should be done to limit their disastrous effects.

“When you place human consumption and human production ahead of everything such as is happening with the ‘credit crunch’, and where you assume that society will crash if you stop consuming, then you need to think that we need a different kind of society.”

As the pioneer of research into these areas, Sir Crispin was attempting to galvanise opinion on the topic as far back as 1977 with his book Climate Change and World Affairs. He claims that the root problem of tackling environmental issues lies not with politicians, but rather with “the background thinking” involved.

“At the moment our society is geared towards just producing things rather than human welfare, and that is one of the problems that has arisen. It is also the reason why there is such a widening gap between rich and poor.”

Similarly, when asked about practical solutions students can incorporate into their daily lives, he is unrepentant: “You can try not to waste, make sure your home is properly insulated and so on, but really you have to prioritise human welfare and employment and longer term balance.”

On the issue of overpopulation, Sir Crispin says that a smaller, more manageable society is the only way forward. Would this mean a society along Chinese lines of one child per family? “Every society has its own way of managing its social problems… there was going to be a tremendous problem in relation to resources, and then as you know they have hideous problems with pollution, so they implemented the one child one family policy which is appropriate for Chinese society but is not the kind of thing that could happen here.”

Sir Crispin also has a very dry wit, useful when your point of view is often the one people do not want to hear. Questioned on whether George Bush is actively impeding efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions, he replies, without missing a beat: “I don’t think he understands what’s going on. You have to allow him honourable motives, however half-witted he may appear.”

Furthermore, he believes the Pope “seems to want people to have babies” and this is “unhelpful”. Sir Crispin offers a coldly pragmatic approach, but it is one formed over a lifetime of research and a deep understanding as a scientist. We would do well to heed him and take a similarly hard look at our own consumer-driven lives. Maybe we can raise those unimpressive odds on our future as a species.

>>>Read the interview in full here

One comment

  1. 12 Mar ’08 at 1:05 pm

    Richard O'Neill

    For anyone who is interested in this kind of thing there was a talk on TED from Sir Martin Rees about it as well:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/42

    And 10 ways the world could end by Stephen Petranek:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/167

    Good watching :-)

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