Grand Challenges Seminar Series 2018


This seminar series provides a forum to hear from a panel of experts debating some of the most pressing issues facing scientists and the public today. The debates are organised by our first year D.Phil students and take place during Trinity term. This year the seminars are taking place at Jesus College Ship Street Centre, OX1 3DW and are being held on Tuesday evenings between 1st May and 5th June at 5.30pm with drinks and discussions afterwards until 7.30pm.

The link to the Eventbrite page is:

Dates for Trinity Term 2018

Tuesday 1st May Emission Impossible: Geoengineering in the Face of Climate Change

Geoengineering, the practice of artificially altering the climate, has long been a contentious topic. Its attractiveness to scientists and policy makers who aim to engineer alternative solutions to mitigate the dangers of climate change is often met with economic, social and even ethical concerns. This seminar looks to explore arguments for and against the implementation of geoengineering. What are the economic, social and environmental implications of proposed schemes? Can we afford not to employ them? Is geoengineering ethical? Does it work and if so, is it possible to reach the targets set out in the Paris agreement without it? These are just some of the topics we hope to investigate.

Chair: Professor Rosalind Rickaby

Panellists: Dr Philip Renforth and Mr Tim Kruger

Tuesday 8th May Life in a Dying World: Mass Extinctions and the Future of Humanity

Earth has supported life for more than 3.5 billion years, and over this time many species have come and gone due to the natural processes of evolution. Mass extinctions are different: species are lost at a highly accelerated rate, creating a domino effect that can bring down whole ecosystems. The human species has been massively successful, more than doubling its total population in the last 50 years. Meanwhile, reports indicate that one quarter of all other mammal species and a staggering 40% of insect pollinators are now threatened with extinction. Global biodiversity loss on such a grand scale may have far-reaching ecological, economic and social consequences. Avoiding the sixth mass extinction will require a huge effort. Should we prioritise the protection of some species over others? Or should we tackle the causes of this massive biodiversity loss, such as pollution and habitat destruction? Can we innovate our way out of this using novel technologies? These are some of the questions to be discussed.

Chair: Mark Carnall

Panellists: Steve Brooks, Dr Simon Stuart & Dr Joe Nunez-Mino

Tuesday 15th May The Anthropocene and the Post-Truth World

We are now in the Anthropocene – human activity is now a major influence on the climate and ecosystems of the earth. It has never been more important that the public are aware of the human impact on the environment, and that scientific research about the state of the earth is communicated accurately and truthfully. Yet we are now in the Post-Truth World where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. The question we want to address in this panel discussion is: What does the post-truth world mean for the future of our environment?

Chair: Chris Jarvis

Panellists: Dr Sarah Cornell, Dr Susanne Quadflieg & Owen Gaffney

Tuesday 22nd May Individual Lifestyle Change is No Longer Adequate to Tackle Climate Change

Do you recycle, turn off the light, travel by public transport, eat a vegetarian diet? Do you feel guilty when you don’t? Public communications on tackling climate change often focus on individual lifestyle choices. Yet, given that even a homeless person living in America has a carbon footprint of 8.5 tonnes, due to the fossil-fuel intensive infrastructure of that country, actions beyond the level of the individual are critical to effectively tackling climate change. Should our communications strategy change tack? Our commitments to reduce carbon emissions may only be met by large-scale corporate action and changes to political legislation. But how can we effectively achieve this? And to what extent will individual lifestyle change continue to have a role in climate action?

Chair: Tina Fawcett from the Environmental Change Institute

Panellists: Ian Christie (senior lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey), Doug Parr (Chief Scientist & Policy Director, Greenpeace), Rosemary Randall (founder, Climate Conversations) and Rebecca Willis (independent researcher in environmental politics and policymaker; convener of Green Alliance’s Climate Leadership programme for MPs)

Tuesday 29th May Science and Politics: A complicated relationship?

The relationship between science and politics has always been complicated, but as we face escalating environmental challenges and a new technological landscape, their integration has never been more essential. Scientific results are often complex and uncertain, which can be at odds with a politician’s need to make rapid and reliable decisions. In this seminar we will discuss the current challenges facing science and politics. Drawing from the speaker’s experience, we will reflect on the current status of science involvement in policy decision-making processes and highlight potential solutions to bridging the science-politics gap.

Chair: Tina Fawcett (Senior Researcher and Acting Deputy Leader, ECI Energy Programme)

Panellists: Lord John Krebs (Honorary Fellow and Former Principal at Jesus College, Oxford), Dr. Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat MP 2010-15) and Dr. Sarah Main (CaSE Executive Director).