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Van Mildert College

SCR Lecture Series

The Senior Common Room has organised an Anniversary Lecture Series, with a suite of lectures on a broad theme of climate change. Information about each of the lectures can be found below.


The Uncertain World: How examination of past climate and biogeochemical processes can help us understand the future

Professor Richard Pancost, University of Bristol

2 February 2015


Abstract: Uncertainty is the oft-forgotten but arguably most socially challenging aspect of mankind’s centuries-long impact on the environment. We live our lives informed by the power of experience: our weather projections and harvesting practice, our water management and hazard planning are all based, at least in part, on tens to hundreds of years of observation that inform our predictions of future floods, drought, hurricanes and heat waves. Now, however, we are changing our environment and our climate, such that the lessons of the past have less relevance to the planning of our future. Many aspects of environmental change are unprecedented in human experience. This increasingly Uncertain World is not one of which we have no knowledge - we have high confidence that temperatures and sea level will rise – but there is uncertainty in the magnitude and speed of change. Nor should we view The Uncertain World with existential fear - we know that warm worlds have existed in the past. However, crucial details remain difficult to predict: we do not know whether many regions of the world will become wetter or dryer. Moreover, the consequences of these rapid changes on the wider and complex biological and chemical systems, and the people dependent upon them, are poorly understood. In this talk, I will discuss how research on past climates can help us better understand the biogeochemical consequences of global environmental change, from ocean acidification impacts on marine organisms to global warming impacts on the terrestrial and marine carbon cycle.


Climate Change: One, or Many?

Professor Mike Hulme, King’s College London

11 May 2015


Abstract: In this talk I suggest that the story of climate change has become too univocal. There is an orthodoxy which does not do justice to the complexities of what is happening to climates around the world, nor how such changes are understood and acted upon. I argue that a cultural analysis of climate and its changes is needed as much as, if not more than, a scientific one. Such analysis reveals the many different things that climate change means to different people in different places holding different concerns and priorities. Understanding this diversity, set against the universality of climate models and reports such as the IPCC, provides a sounder basis for thinking through the different ways in which policies and other interventions to deal with climatic dangers might be designed and enacted.


Death and destruction in the red beds of Russia; the greatest mass extinction of all time

Professor Mike Benton, University of Bristol

2 November 2015


Abstract: At the end of the Permian period, 90% of species were wiped out. This was the greatest mass extinction ever, and its causes have been a mystery. Numerous hypotheses have been presented, including impact by an asteroid, but the consensus now focusses on massive volcanic eruption in Siberia. The immediate killers were linked aspects of substantial global warming - acid rain, increased temperature, aridity on land, and ocean anoxia. Our work in Russia has pieced together the first steps in the killing model, as plants were stripped from the land and erosion rates increased hugely. Sediment washed into the sea combined with warming to generate swamping and anoxia. The recovery of life after this crisis took a long time, perhaps 10 Myr. Normally, life could recover faster, but so many species had been lost that whole key habitats were destroyed, including coral reefs and forests.