Lessons from Technology Development for Energy and Sustainability

Laby Theatre
School of Physics
University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010


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Ashley Johnson


T: +61 3 8344 6874

The growth of the ecological footprint of a human population about to increase from 7B now to 9B in 2050 raises serious concerns about how to live both more efficiently and with less permanent impacts on the finite world.  One present focus is the future of our climate, where the level of concern has prompted actions across the world in mitigation of the emissions of CO2. An examination of successful and failed introductions of technology over the last 200 years generates several lessons that should be kept in mind as we proceed to 80% decarbonise the world economy by 2050.  I will argue that all the actions taken together until now to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide will not achieve a serious reduction, and in some cases they will actually make matters worse.   In practice, the scale and the different specific engineering challenges of the decarbonisation project are without precedent in human history.  This means that any new technology introductions need to be able to meet the huge implied capabilities.     An altogether more sophisticated public debate is urgently needed on appropriate actions that (i) considers the full range of threats to humanity, and (ii) weighs more carefully both the upsides and downsides of taking any action, and of not taking that action.

About the Speaker

Professor Michael Kelly is the Emeritus Prince Philip Professor of Technology in the University of Cambridge since 2016, having been the inaugural holder of the chair since 2002. He has also been a regular visitor to the MacDiarmid Institute, Victoria University of Wellington since 2012, serving on its international advisory board since its inception. Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.  Member of the Academia Europaea.   Fellow (and former Vice-President) of the Institute of Physics and Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Senior member of the IEEE and member of the American Physical Society.

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