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Reith Lectures 2010 - lecture two: Surviving the Century

Tuesday 8 June 2010, 09:20

Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick Head of Interactive, Radio 3

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The second of this year's Reith Lectures, 'Surviving the Century', is now over. You can replay our live chat here in the this blog post. Do so while listening to the lecture itself. Many listeners joined in with the conversation about the lecture and its themes, here in the live chat, on Twitter (using the hashtag #Reith) and in email. Get the Reith lectures podcast here - you can download the lectures to listen to on your computer or MP3 player. It's free and you can keep them forever.

Now we'd like you to tell us what you thought of the lecture and its themes but also of the live chat itself - did it add anything to the experience for you? And if so, should we try this with other Radio 4 programmes - and which ones? Click 'comments' and leave yours. We'll be doing this again for the third lecture, next Tuesday 15 June at the same time (0900). In the meantime, we'll continue to scan the #Reith hashtag on Twitter and remember the Radio 4 Facebook page is also a good place for discussion of our programmes and web sites.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Can science save the Earth?

    Save or destroy. Could go either way really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If we need to use science to save the earth and save life, we have done something very wrong.

    As humans, we are born with intuition. For so long, we have gone against it, for so long we have been making huge errors in an attempt to create the 'perfect' situation.

    We try to use our intelligence to make things better but our intelligence often fails us, as there is a massive difference between intelligence and intuition, i.e. doing what is right.

    Life is simple complicated by people. Look at a tree. It survives for century after century because it takes only what it needs.

    Man seems to want more. Always looking for something 'better'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Science can only help in the aftermath. The real problem is the number of people on this planet demanding resources - and the perpetual growth in that figure.

    Reduce the population - or, at least, reverse the growth for a significant period - and we won't need science to continually squeeze more output per hectare of land or more efficiency out of engines.

    The greater the imbalance between demand and availability, the more inhumane and violent the process of reblancing will be

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Very little work has been done on reuse. Imagine if instead of melting down scrap steel construction beams (which uses vast amounts of energy) you could simply remove the beams and reuse them. We need a lego society where as many components as possible in as many sectors as possible are designed to be reusable.
    This approach would save huge amounts of energy and materials.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    You can't slash funding for 'blue sky' science and then expect a beleaguered and impoverished scientific community to come up with the goods. All the 'talent' has deserted the sinking ship years ago because they want job security for than 2 years and to enjoy luxuries such as eating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Space is he answer. A whole universe of resources out there. Get building!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Clearly the private and academic sector is where the best science is done and real solutions to alternative energy requirements will come from. Indeed even now the developments coming out of the private sector are numerous, innovative and very practical. Two problems with this route though are that it the overall solution will be arrived at over time and employ numerous technologies all the while that government puts obstacles in the way of implementation. Government involvment tends to go for the overpriced super jumbo "silver bullet" approach which crowds out all other solutions. Of course, the more money that goes into a project the more money and time will be required to arrive at the solution - even if becomes clear the solution may not even exist based on present day technologies. How long have been people been talking about and governments investing in Fusion? Are these huge inefficient wind farms the solution?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Only a scientific approach can help us both identify the problems we face as a global society and find solutions that have long term benefit.

    But, this approach must be accompanied by objective, rational thinking by all stakeholders in national governments and international bodies.

    Politicians must let go of short term sectional interests and think out of their comfort zones. They have to allow their scientific advisors the freedom to act and collaborate internationally without political pressure. They must avoid knee-jerk responses to tabloid scare stories and look at the hard evidence. If hard evidence does not exist then the precautionary principle must be applied. This is simple common sense.

    Those who think science is the problem are wrong. It is the desire for relentless economic growth and pursuit of selfish national interest that are the principal causes of our current problems. New knowledge revealed by scientific research can yield technologies which make the problem worse or those that can make it better. The science itself is 'neutral'. The choice of which direction we go in is up to all of us in our own ways.

    Everyone can contribute - use a bit less energy, walk more, recycle more, replace brown and white goods less often, buy much more locally produced food, don't buy bottled water etc. But we can also do more by learning about the problems we face and becoming more active policitally in requiring our representatives to engage more effectively in the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Probably not, in the long run, but it's got a damn sight better chance than anyone else.

    Science can only enhance how willing we are to save ourselves. Until we find the drive to save ourselves from ourselves, science will never find its time to shine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Science can stem the bleeding, that's for certain. But save it? Not without our co-operation on a responsible approach to population management.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This week,there seemed more than a hint of blaming
    `Eco-freaks and Animal Rights`(normally the forced rhetoric of the drug industry)but it is important to remember that the early Royal Society collaborated with some of the worst regimes which ever existed.With the exception of Newton-who was a secret dissenter-they helped put back womens` rights,slave abolition,universal education and healthcare by centuries at:


    Wrecking womens` rights at its emergence in particular may have led to us facing over-population and the heat-death of the planet now.
    Is a little more modesty and less blaming of others overdue from the Royal Society please?
    If we are forced to churn out drug industry rhetoric,we should just say so-everyone will understand

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Wherther we go or survive, the earth will continue and it will impose a limit on the number of humans being a parasite on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    One cheep and simple solution is to place solar panels on single garage roofs and generate Hydrogen, this Hydrogen is then used to power "Dual" fule cars, the car starts on petrol, switches to Hydrogen and when the tank is empty switches back to petorl.

    Studi9es carried out 10years ago in Bedford proved that a standard single garage roof will supply enough "Free" fule to account for 95% of the average cars milage.

    No Hydrogen network needed, with prototype costs 10 years ago of between 4 to 7 thousand depending on the car and orination for the garage.

    Pay back was 3-5years IF the goverment changes the road fuel tax rules, with current tax rules the payback is approx 15-20years due to the milage charge for each mile traveled on untaxed fuel. This tax was what eventually killed the trial!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Time to organise a national competition for energy sources like they did for longitude in the old days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Earth is not under threat. In the bigger scheme of things the earth will shrug off the problem, humans. I take the gaia view. Earths temperature will inevitably increase, combatting the "infection"-(mankind) Collateral damage could well be other forms of life ,flora and fauna. But the earth will survive and life, in whatever form that takes, will continue. Ultimately the survival of mankind will be on our ability to colonise other planets and on our ability to adapt to an ever hostile earth. the irony is that probably earth could return to "normality" after several millennia, and man could return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The whole problem lies with how science and capitalism are interlinked. Instead of knowledge being used to benefit the planet and her inhabitants it is always used for profit even if this is to her detriment. DDT and CFC usage is a prime example of profit through science to the detriment of all life. Science will never be our saviour as long as it is used for financial gain.

    Here we are on a Planet which can provide for all yet she is at risk of overheating through fossil fuel technologies, which were hijacked by the greedy and now have us dependant. Yet we all know wave, solar, wind and all other sustainable forms of energy are being held back until the fossil fuels are gone and the profit made but what if the coal, gas and oil have been locked away to lubricate the earths plates as they sub duct?

    The profiteers only think of now but we should all be thinking of the future and how to benefit our next generations and until science works for the betterment of all it is the cause and will never be the cure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It's largely the application of science through technology that has created the mess for humanity on this planet.

    Until people realise that the ecology/Nature is a system (a collection of functionally interrelated components) nothing will go right.

    "Man" thinks he controls things. But he doesn't. He tinkers around and the ecology simply adjusts to a new level. That level is becoming increasingly hostile to supporting humanity.

    The planet will be ok. It'll be here until the sun goes bang. Humanity is unlikely to be there when that happens. I'm pretty certain that the ecology will find a solution to the problem of humanity sooner than scientists.

    We haven't even got our heads around population control yet - in a world with a climate so variable that no one can guarantee a yield of crops.

    We worry about where oil is coming from; now, water. But has anyone bothered to wonder whether, as the world defoliates, there'll be enough oxygen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The lectures are thoughtful and sensible, giving a rounded picture and arguments that are easy to follow.

    It remains to be seen whether we can act on it, but the population explosion worldwide does not give much cause for optimism - and, as we have seen in China, the consequences of a one-child policy have yet to be measured fully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The one and only thing that will save our planet is population control.

    I don't want to see my great, great grandchildren living in a high rise box, with no countryside to visit, a planet running out of all resources, mass starvation, or alternately packets of scientifically produces food. Just looking at the figures concerning the UK's population is enough to scare the living daylights out of me. What ever happened to responsible government. Unless we do something now, I see a future of anarchy, shortness of food and housing, and possible rioting in the streets. Does 'science' have an answer to that, I doubt it.


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Find out about this year's panel and theme