Past event

Serendipity and Arboreal Happiness Inaugural Lecture by Professor Rob Wilson, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences

In 1970, the year Professor Rob Wilson was born, atmospheric CO2 levels were 326 ppm — only ca. 40 ppm above pre-industrial natural levels. Now we are at around 417 ppm with no sign yet for the vital emissions reduction we need to minimise the impact of climate change. In the same period, climate science evolved from a small group of atmospheric scientists worried about warming in the 21st century, to a now near global acceptance that we are at the beginning of a climate crisis.

Professor Wilson started his undergraduate degree in Geology in 1989 with almost no concept of climate change. In fact, at that time, it was not really part of the zeitgeist and the prevailing view by many geologists was that the current warm period was not deemed a serious problem in the context of the last 500 million years. So how did Rob – then a clueless undergraduate student – become a Professor in Earth and Environmental Sciences who uses trees to study climate change?

“This is not a story of a grand plan to academic nirvana, but rather a journey that was punctuated by a series of random events which ultimately made me the academic that I am today,” he says.

Rob's research is broad, including ecological disturbance, pollution impacts, carbon sequestration and methodological developments, with reconstructing regional and large-scale climate change his primary passion for the past 20 years. His Inaugural Lecture will summarise his career by focusing on a few key periods, as well as highlighting his experiences of interactions with the public and fellow scientists.

“My research has led to multiple clashes with both climate sceptics and intransigent colleagues,” says Rob. “The outcomes of which led to the creation of collaborative teams to harmonise the research process, allowing not only an improvement of our understanding of climate change, but also the communication of the science itself.”

The lecture will also reflect on the discordance between expanding institutional expectations and significant pressures for undertaking impactful research. Rob's research is literally global in nature, but the moral dilemma of his personal carbon footprint nags constantly with no easy solution for someone who wants to stay relevant as a “world-leading” palaeoclimatologist. Further, as teaching, administrative and research pressures increase, the hamster wheel of academia spins ever faster, Rob will reflect on whether all academics are in danger of losing that “passion” that got us into research in the first place.

The lecture will be followed by a reception in Lower College Hall.

Please register using the ticketing system as up-to-date Covid advice will be sent nearer the time.