King: Rally behind ‘human brilliance’ for change

Paul Mayne // Western News

As today’s graduates face challenges far different than those of the last century, they must meet them with a collective drive, desire and determination for change, scientist Sir David King told graduates at the Thursday, June 12, afternoon session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.

“We have the intelligence; we often have all of the technologies,” King said. “But do we have the collective capability? We can do it, but we can only do it if you put your minds to it.”

King spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Science and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Thursday, June 12, afternoon session of Western’s 303rd Convocation. Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon King for his landmark career in the field of surface science.

King told graduates challenges, such as population growth and climate change, are ongoing. But the big challenge graduates will face is delivering the commodities the middle class expects at the level of expectation over the next three to four decades. To address this, we have everything we need, but we are not using everything we have, he said.

“We are not using enough of that human brilliance we always bring, and that is the reason this is the right audience (for this message),” King continued.

The Foreign Secretary of Her Majesty’s Government appointed King as Special Representative for Climate Change in September 2013. He was previously the government’s chief scientific advisor from 2000-7, during which time he raised awareness of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the Energy Technologies Institute.

As director of the Government’s Foresight Programme, he created an in-depth horizon scanning process, which advised government on a wide range of long-term issues, from flooding to obesity. King also chaired the government’s Global Science and Innovation Forum from its inception. He advised government on issues including the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic of 2001, post-9/11 risks to the U.K., genetically modified foods, energy provision and innovation and wealth creation.

From 2008-12, King served as the founding director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford and established the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford.

Head of the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge University from 1993-2000 and master of Downing College at Cambridge from 1995-2000, King has published more than 500 papers on the science of solid surfaces and on science and policy, for which he has received numerous awards. He holds 22 honorary degrees from universities around the world.

In his citation, Chemistry professor emeritus Peter Norton said he can think of no one who has better demonstrated the broadly based wisdom and leadership necessary to face the profound challenges of the 21st century than King.

“He is contributing mightily to the understanding of the effects of climate change and the need to move from a carbon-based economy,” Norton said. “He is a role model of how a wise, dedicated and passionate scientist can change the world. We are honored to count him as an alumnus of Western.”

King also told the graduates they must not forget that our ecosystem, which supports our survival, co-evolved with us.

“There is a major crisis to what we are doing in our ecosystems,” he said, adding we need to understand we are a part of the natural world.

“If we damage the ecosystems that give us a means of survival, we are actually committing a kind of joint suicide. It’s a question now of our ability to take collective action to manage that,” he continued.

Also during the ceremony the title of Distinguished University Professor was awarded to Biology professor Jeremy McNeil and the Angela Armit Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part Time Faculty was awarded to Biology professor Daria Koscinski. The Honourable G. Howard Ferguson award was presented to Mustang rower Natasha Caminsky.