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Previous Macaulay Lectures

Each year the Trust, in partnership with The James Hutton Institute, organise the annual Macaulay lecture.

The aim of the lecture is to stimulate thinking and dialogue about contemporary environmental issues in order to honour the vision of Dr T B Macaulay from whose endowment in 1930 both the Trust and the Hutton trace their origins. Further information about Dr Macaulay can be found here.

The lectures are aimed at an informed, professional audience and each one is given by a world renown academic. The list below shows an archive of recent lectures. The most recent lecture can be found on the following page.

The most serious problem facing human society today is that the ecosystems in which we live are becoming unsustainable.Species are being lost and resources are being consumed at unprecedented rates-but just how much can we lose? The Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa has been well studied for nearly 50 years. Protected areas such as these act as ecological baselines where human-induced change is kept to a minimum. Lessons from these baselines are vital in understanding other areas of the world.In this talk Professor Sinclair will draw on almost half a century of his own research, demonstrating its relevance to the way society must manage their own systems for long-term sustainability.

One of the great scientific challenges is trying to understand how the operations of ecosystems, on which we all depend, are regulated by their biological complexity. Nowhere is this challenge more intractable than in soil, site of many essential services such as carbon and nutrient cycling, and home to great - and largely unknown - biological diversity.

New approaches and technologies offer real hope of progress in tackling this problem, but there is an urgent need to communicate the importance of soils to the global ecosystem and to human civilisation, to slow or halt the damage being done to the world's soils.

Recently, the OECD review of rural policy in Scotland argued that integration is needed between the many organisations involved – a conclusion that harks back to earlier models of Integrated Rural Development. This talk asks whether the concept of Integrated Rural Development still has any meaning in the context of the new approaches to rural governance being adopted within Scotland and more widely across Europe? These approaches are characterised by multi-level interactions (including vertical and horizontal partnerships) between public, private and voluntary sectors, in what is sometimes seen as a 'nobody-in-charge world'.

The talk seeks to link the question about integrated rural development to re-theorisations of concepts of spatial planning, place-shaping, capacity-building and neo-endogenous development. It considers how rural development policies in Scotland, and Europe more generally, might be re-cast through supporting the empowerment of local communities. The talk will conclude by asking how we might strike an appropriate balance between enabling and mobilising local actors to pursue their own strategic agendas and the desire of governments to impose their agendas. Might rural communities actually be better served by 'disintegrated rural development'?

Land use has generally been considered a local issue, but is becoming a force of global importance. Worldwide changes to land resources are driven by needs for food, fibre, water and shelter for six billion people. Global croplands, pastures, plantations and urban areas have expanded in recent decades, accompanied by increased energy, water and fertiliser consumption, and by biodiversity loss. These changes have increased human consumption of the planet’s resources, but undermine the capacity of ecosystems to sustain food production, maintain freshwater, regulate climate, and restrict infectious diseases. We face the challenge of managing trade-offs between immediate human needs and the long-term capacity of the biosphere to provide necessary goods and services.

Europe’s populations and economies fundamentally depend on the supplies of food, water, energy, and material - from within and beyond the borders of Europe. But is this stock of natural capital being used sustainably and are the environmental resources secure enough to sustain today’s economies and people in good health? Are we using resources efficiently and can we really decouple further economic development from the use of resources and their environmental impacts?

To address these depends critically on the availability of, and access to, reliable environmental information, but there are sometimes vested interests entangled in much of the evidence brought forward to support various policies and actions.  This lecture will examine the differing roles of academics, research institutions and independent bodies in creating the sufficiently robust evidence for policy-makers and ask whether today we are seeing evidence-based policy making or policy-based evidence.

The publication of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 is the public expression of a global consensus regarding a desired pathway for our future. The 17 goals and the 169 targets indicate the areas where progress is needed and help to focus the attention of researchers, policy-makers and practitioners. However, the publication fails to clarify how the goals and targets interconnect, including trade-offs and synergies that need to be resolved to avoid unintended consequences. Achieving the promise of the full suite of the Sustainable Development goals requires the development of three additional elements:

  1. new aggregated indicators or measures of human and ecosystem well-being;
  2. new dynamic models of the integrated system of humans and the natural world, and
  3. innovative ways to build broad public consensus on the future we want and best to achieve this.

A recording of the 39th Macaulay Lecture is available below:

Professor Jackson’s book, “Prosperity without Growth”, is a world-renowned landmark in the sustainability debate. Originally published at the outset of the global financial crisis, Jackson's seminal work challenges orthodoxies, causing us to question the primacy of economic growth at all costs, and has drawn praise across the world from politicians to Nobel Prize-winning economists. 

Against a backdrop of Brexit, and ongoing debate over Scotland's economy and where growth could or should come from in the future, Professor Jackson showed how we can exist within the ecological limits of our planet and helped us understand how we can chart a course to a new longer-lasting prosperity.

For the first time in the 40-year history of the TB Macaulay Lecture, the lecture was streamed in real-time to viewers across the world through the James Hutton Institute's YouTube channel.

Prof Jackson also discussed how much Scotland has changed both economically and socio-politically in recent years, focussing in particular on Brexit from a Scottish perspective; on how Scotland can develop its economy; and on how economically autonomous Scotland can be in a globalised world facing major environmental challenges.

The 41st TB Macaulay Lecture focussed on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and Professor McGlade discussed the lives and experiences of those facing the day-to-day challenges associated with climate change. She shared insights from her work in Kenya, and drew on her experience at the UN, and shared lessons learnt during the development and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as their practical impact.

You can watch a video recording of the 41st TB Macaulay Lecture here:

With news about our climate, ecosystems and wildlife tending to be grim, there are few who could argue action must be taken and taken quickly. The 42nd TB Macaulay Lecture, Green and Prosperous Land, focussed on Professor Helm's radical but tangible plan for positive change.

The pragmatic approach taken by Professor Helm towards environmentalism includes a summary of Britain’s green assets, a look towards possible futures and an achievable 25-year plan for a green and prosperous country. This bold generational plan assesses the environment as a whole, explains the necessity of protecting and enhancing our green spaces and offers a clear, financially sound strategy to put Britain on a greener path.

Helm’s arguments expose the economic inefficiencies in our environmental policies and thus highlights the need for change. Leaving behind the current sterile and ineffective battle between the environment and the economy, this revolutionary plan champions the integration of the economy and the environment together to deliver sustainable, eco-friendly economic growth. There is hope, and there is time, but we must act now, Professor Helm argues.

You can watch Professor Helm's lecture here:

How do climate negotiations take place and why is progress so slow? How can governments, scientists and activists work together to tackle the climate emergency for everyone's benefit? These questions, and many others, were at the heart of the 43rd TB Macaulay Lecture, led by Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in conversation with Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and youth climate activists Anuna De Wever, Lola Segers and Julieta Martinez.

During the lecture, Ms Figueres described her dissatisfaction with the sometimes slow progress of climate negotiations, but she also highlighted where advances have been made and reasons to be optimistic. She also emphasized the role of science in driving the conversation about climate change and holding world leaders to account. You can watch the 43rd TB Macaulay Lecture on its dedicated website or below.