29.03.2014 - Four billion years of life on earth: what should it teach mankind?
Keynote by one of the most accomplished science writers and biologists of this time. His view: Earth and life have evolved together over billions of years. Both have passed across thresholds that have changed the whole biosphere. Life has survived major mass extinctions, and continued to prosper. But does this long history have anything relevant to humanity, or do we break all the rules?
Fortey believes that the natural progress of evolution is always towards greater richness, and that this is the way our planet is meant to be when Darwinian evolution is allowed to play out naturally. Mistaken ideas about Darwinism have contributed to a view of human life that diminishes rather than enhances richness, particularly in the Weltanschauung of market capitalism.
Fortey was born in London in 1946 and educated at Cambridge University, where he received his bachelors degree in 1968, his Doctor of Philosophy degree three years later, and ScD in 1986. He is a palaeontologist, and one of the world authorities on trilobites - extinct arthropods that were one of the dominant life forms in the Palaeozoic Era. For most of his working life he was employed in the Natural History Museum in London, where he achieved the highest research grade.
He is known equally for his science writing, which marries personal observation and poetic prose with the latest scientific research. Of his six books, Life: an unauthorised biography (1996) has been translated into twelve languages and cited as one of the Books of the Year by the New York Times. Almost all of his books have been shortlisted for literary prizes. His recent book, Dry Store Room No 1, is an exploration of museum culture from the perspective of an insider. His latest book, Survivors, about living fossils has been made into a three part TV series broadcast by the BBC in 2012. Bill Bryson has said of him: Fortey is without peer among science writers. He is currently appearing on television with Sir David Attenborough.