The world's next 20 years on one slide – and it's pretty scary

This is the summary slide from a recent powerpoint on the global challenges facing humanity between now and 2030. It sets out the key questions (easier to read if you click on the slide). The answers to any one of which might well be ‘no’, with scary consequences. And please don’t try and dismiss this as ill-informed climate alarmism. It’s from Prof John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the UK Government and Head of its Government Office for Science. Full powerpoint here (but best to go make yourself a cup of tea while it downloads…..). [h/t Kate Raworth]

Beddington slide

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Comments

10 Responses to “The world's next 20 years on one slide – and it's pretty scary”
  1. Stephen Maturin

    Actually, I think the question is deeper than policy change – do we have the right governance systems that are able to address these challenges? Our democracies seem very short-termist and unwilling to take meaningful action, and accountability systmes in general and at all levels do not appear to be up to the job. Good policies are often trotted out, but then not implemented and no-one held to account, instead a new policy is produced to distract attention from the failure to deliver on the old one!

    We have been hearing governments making appeasing noises on development, energy, environment etc. for decades, but not walking the talk. I don’t see any signs of this changing, so I agree this is very scary indeed….

  2. Tord Steiro

    //Can 9 billion people be fed equitably..//

    Have we ever managed to feed the entire human population in an equitable way?

    Further, without energy, there is no hope, so I would claim that is the primary challenge.

    With enough energy, we can always create food one way or the other, and we can always create water one way or the other.

    With energy we can always adapt too, and, hence, increase the prosepcts of saving biodeviersity.

  3. Much has been made this year of the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. His argument about natural selection seems to be applying to our political processes in facing these challenges. The process is blind and slow. Our ability to adapt rapidly enough to make a difference will be a real test of whether we are just one more animal or something different.

    Duncan: Hi Stuart, long time no see! The difference here is that there is no large population from which the fittest can survive and the rest perish. Instead there is just one entity – humanity.

  4. Vivek

    Like Tord (#6 above), think of rephrasing the challenges as one energy challenge.

    Climate change is essentially a huge energy problem: how to generate energy without generating carbon in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, currently the only *scalable* solution is nuclear power, which is far from ideal. A potential answer? Induced technological change, maybe: a carbon tax (as small as $5/ton) to change incentives, with the tax proceeds being funneled toward new technology development.

    Unlike energy, generation of both food and water can be improved in the short term – lots of water is wasted in agriculture and industrial uses, which can be made more efficient, and farming can be significantly improved in many countries (including by irrigation, the irony) and expanded.

  5. ‘And please don’t try and dismiss this as ill-informed climate alarmism. It’s from Prof John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the UK Government and Head of its Government Office for Science’

    A government adviser: isn’t that the very reason we should be sceptical?!

    Duncan: and the ‘professor’ bit? You’re pretty hard to convince, it seems!

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