Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Science advice and policy making

By Robert M. May

Lord May examines the challenges facing tomorrow’s world: anthropogenic climate change; feeding more people; and designing a financial system that allocates capital in a responsible and effective way.

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To borrow a phrase, we live in the Best of Times and the Worst of Times. This makes it particularly pleasing to see a resurgent Royal Society of New South Wales (RSN) playing a larger part in the communal life of the state.

It is the Best of Times in the sense that, thanks to our increasing understanding of how the natural world works, the average individual – in both developed and developing worlds – lives a longer and healthier life than ever before. Fifty years ago the average life expectancy on Earth was 46 years, whilst today it is 68 years. The counter-intuitive 46 year figure derives largely from the gap in life expectancy between the developed and developing worlds, which has shrunk from 26 years to a still disgraceful 12 years. Over the past 40 years, global food production has more than doubled, on only 10% more land; the continuing problems of malnourishment derive from inequitable distribution, a problem which has been with us since the dawn of agriculture.

The flip side of these advances is that population numbers continue to grow. Human numbers have trebled, to just on 7 billion, over the past 70 years. And although global average fertility rates are today roughly at replacement level, with the average woman having just less than one female child, the “momentum of population growth” is still carrying numbers upward toward around 9.8...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Lord May of Oxford is one of Australia’s most distinguished mathematicians. He holds a Professorship at Oxford University and is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He was President of The Royal Society (2000- 2005) and before that was Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the UK Office of Science and Technology (1995-2000). He had a key role in the application of chaos theory to theoretical ecology through the 1970s and 1980s. His many honours include: the Royal Swedish Academy’s Crafoord Prize; the Swiss-Italian Balzan Prize; the Japanese Blue Planet Prize and the Royal Society’s Copley Medal He is a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences and an Overseas Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Lord May was presented with his Fellowship of the Royal Society of New South Wales at Government House on 29 April 2011 by the Society’s patron, the Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir.

Source: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 144, nos. 3&4, pp. 50-57. Reproduced with permission.