Lecture by Yadvinder Malhi, Professor of Ecosystem Science, University of Oxford (Visiting Scholar at the Earth Institute)
We live in a unique time in human and Earth history, when human influence on the planet is so persuasive that it is argued that we have entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. The consequences of this pervasive influence spills over into the many environmental challenges we face, from climate change to depletion of marine resources and the loss and degradation of natural ecosystems. In this lecture, Dr. Malhi will examine human influence on the natural world through the concept of metabolism: how much energy flows through human societies compared to how much flows through the biosphere. He will first look at the biological metabolism of the planet, how it is measured and how it is distributed over the Earth. He will then explore how these energy flows have changed through human history and prehistory, and scenarios for how they may change over this century, where human-appropriated energy flows threaten to overwhelm the life-sustaining metabolism of the planet. The metabolic profile of the UK is explored in particular detail: how much of our energy is directly consumed or embedded in products and in societal infrastructure? Dr. Malhi will conclude by exploring possible pathways out of this predicament, of how to navigate a sustainable future on a human-dominated planet.