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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Annual IAS London Event: 'Timed out: evolving to extinction;

26th June 2013, 19:30 to 22:00, Chartered Accountants Hall, One Moorgate Place, London, EC2R 6EA, Jonathon Porritt, Professor Dame Gillian Beer, Casper Henderson, Professor Simon Conway Morris and Professor Paul Wignall


We are delighted to invite you to the Institute of Advanced Study’s next London event, ‘Timed Out: evolving to extinction’, on 26 June 2013 at the Chartered Accountants’ Hall, One Moorgate Place.

The event will bring a panel of leading thinkers together to discuss the intellectual, practical and ethical issues raised by humankind’s effects on evolutionary time.

  • Jonathon Porritt, internationally respected environmentalist, writer and broadcaster, former Director of Friends of the Earth and co-founder of Forum for the Future.
  • Dame Gillian Beer, King Edward VII Professor Emeritus at the University of Cambridge.
  • Professor Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolution at the University of Cambridge.
  • Caspar Henderson, award-winning science writer and journalist.
  • Professor Paul Wignall, professor of palaeoenvironments at the University of Leeds.

The evening will build on the success of our previous London events, including last year’s highly successful The Public Intellectual in Classical Athens and Today with Bethany Hughes, Charlotte Higgins and Professor Edith Hall.

Organised by the Institute of Advanced Study, these events offer the Friends of the IAS and the wider Durham alumni network an opportunity to come together for what should prove to be a stimulating and engaging occasion.

Date: Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Time: 7.00pm – 10.00pm
Venue: Chartered Accountants Hall, One Moorgate Place, London, EC2R 6EA
Format: Drinks and nibbles will be available from 7.00pm before the event starts at 7.30pm. This will be followed by a drinks reception for guests to mingle and chat with speakers.
Cost: Free

Spaces are limited and will be awarded on a first come, first served basis. If you would like to attend this event please register using our online booking form. Once registered a confirmation email will be issued and this will act as your ticket. Alternatively you can register via email by contacting enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk.


Additional Information

Nearly 900 species have been pushed into extinction by human activities in the last 500 years, and this is probably just a small proportion of the species and extinctions known to science. Such a rapid loss is thought to be as much as 10,000 times the ‘natural’ rates of extinction that would otherwise occur¹ .Thousands more species – one in four mammals, one in three amphibians, one in eight birds, numerous insects – are now on the brink of extinction, and as their habitats vanish this process is accelerating. At the same time, with breeding, genetic engineering and transportation, humans have introduced many non-native species into ecosystems, adding to the pressures on their original inhabitants.

The earth has seen many environmental changes, and some events (eg. volcanic eruptions) have been regionally significant. Over the last dozen millennia – ‘the Anthropocene’ – human activities have had increasing effect. But recent centuries have seen a massive intensification of these activities, and global environmental change is now occurring at an unprecedented pace. Human impacts on the planet are hard to quantify or conceptualise, and though we may feel vaguely guilty, this rarely leads to sufficient behavioural change to slow the process of extinction. This raises some key questions.

  • How should we think about humankind’s impacts on evolutionary time?
  • Is such radical transformation just part of a basic competition between humans and others, or has its accelerating pace introduced an entirely new dynamic?
  • What are the consequences of rapidly erasing key participants in ecosystems?
  • Can science and technology get us off this track?
  • Is it immoral to end the time of other species?
  • Do we need to think differently about time and ‘progress’ in order to think and act differently in relation to other species?

The Panel

The panel will be composed of the following participants:

Jonathan Porritt is an internationally respected environmentalist, writer and broadcaster, former Director of Friends of the Earth and co-founder of Forum for the Future. He also works as the Co-Director of the Prince of Wales’ Business and Sustainability Programme, and was Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission (2000-2009). His books include Capitalism As If The World Matters (Earthscan, revised 2007), Globalism and Regionalism (Black Dog 2008) and Living Within Our Means (Forum for the Future 2009).

Dame Gillian Beer is King Edward VII Professor Emeritus at the University of Cambridge. She has written extensively on Darwin and on the cultural implications of his work both for his contemporaries and for our own time. Her books include Darwin's Plots (1983, 2000, 3rd edition 2009) and Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (1996). She is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature and has also chaired the Booker Prize. Most recently, in 2012, Penguin published her Jabberwocky, a collected and annotated edition of Lewis Carroll's poems.

Caspar Henderson is a well-known science writer and journalist, and winner of the IUCN-Reuters award for best environmental writing in western and central Europe. He coordinated the Green College Centre in Oxford, focusing on climate change and other environmental issues, and worked on BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth. He has written about energy, science, the environment and human rights for The Financial Times, The Independent, New Scientist, The Ecologist, Environmental Finance, and Green Futures. His most recent Book of Barely Imagined Beings was published by Granta in October 2012.

Professor Simon Conway Morris is the professor of evolution at the University of Cambridge. His work on the constraints on evolution and the historical processes that lead to the emergence of complexity is of interest not only to palaeobiologists, but also biologists and bioastronomers. He has written about ‘mass extinctions’, ‘aliens at home’ and ‘evolutionary convergence’, and his book Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge University Press, 2003), emphasized the parallel evolution of sensory systems and challenged conventional thinking about evolution.

Professor Paul Wignall is the professor of palaeoenvironments at the University of Leeds. He specialises in palaeontology and sedimentology, and his principal research goal is to understand the origins of mass extinction events. He adopts a multidisciplinary approach to the origins of these crises in Earth's history, considering issues such as volcanic events, climate change and rising sea levels. His writing includes topics such as ‘Lethally hot temperatures during the Early Triassic greenhouse’ and ‘Mantle Plume – the invisible serial killer’.

The panel will be chaired by the Executive Director of Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study, Professor Veronica Strang, an environmental anthropologist whose research examines long-term trajectories in human-environmental relationships and the social and cultural aspects of people’s engagements with water. Named as one of UNESCO’s,Les Lumières de L’Eau in 2007, she is the author of The Meaning of Water (Berg 2004), and Gardening the World (Berghahn 2009).


[1] International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.