1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at Yale University, held on Tuesday 30th November 2010. The speech was entitled “Fantasy to Reality : The World That Lies Ahead” and was the annual George Herbert Walker Lecture held at the university.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
I’m doubly delighted to be here at Yale this afternoon: firstly, because I am in the company of my old friend, Ernesto Zedillo.
I’ve known President Zedillo for many years. He is one of a too rare breed: a man who gives politics a good name. So it is always a pleasure to see him and it was a delight to accept his invitation to visit this famous old University once again.
And it is also a special delight and privilege to deliver the George Herbert Walker III Lecture. In my years in politics George Herbert Walker Bush was a close ally -
When I ceased to be Prime Minister, George Bush was pretty much the first person on the phone yet again, with an invitation to Kennebunkport. George, like Ernesto, is a friend for all seasons.
For George and Ernesto I would do almost anything – but I do draw the line at jumping out of aircraft on my birthday -
My theme this afternoon is the quite extraordinary ways in which the world is changing – and what that means for the future. Let me try and put it in some sort of context.
My father died nearly 50 years ago. Since then, the world has changed beyond recognition. Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union and the United States were the two super-
Little of that world now survives -
Now Boris Yeltsin who ruled Russia just over a decade ago, but now seems part of a bygone age. Boris had a great gift for brevity and irony. I remember walking with him once in the Kremlin, this would have been in the mid 1990s, I said to him, “Boris in one word what is the state of Russia?”, he said “good”, I was surprised, it was falling to pieces, I said “tell me in two words”, he said “not good”.
Even since then, the world has moved on.
Nothing is as it was. In the future, nothing will be as it is. The great challenge is to identify the changes that are to come and use them and to try and take advantage of them.
You may say: but we don’t know what is to come. In fact, we know a good deal more about the future than we realise. When Shakespeare put the words: “Nothing comes from nothing” into King Lear’s mouth, he spoke an eternal truth. Change rarely comes as a bolt from the blue, it’s the result of trends we have overlooked or, sometimes, policy we have implemented.
As evidence, I offer the economic problems we’ve been facing in the last couple of years. They are the result of an unrestrained boom. Business and political leadership failed us. We enjoyed the boom but did not prepare for the aftermath.
As a result, the outlook for all the mature economies -
This is a result of policy failures that brings into stark relief a trend that has been developing for decades: other economies -
As Westerners, we may regret our shrinking pre-
But you and I had better get used to such novelties because the growth of emerging nations has passed the point where it is likely to be reversible: and our future world will be different, wholly different, as a result of it.
I don’t intend to focus on economic changes this afternoon but we should note them: the flow of wealth from West to East: the growing role of Sovereign Wealth Funds, which is huge; the scramble for commodities, especially perhaps in Africa, and the price inflation that is very likely to follow. All these trends are signposted for the future.
I do want to touch on the inter-
Over the last two decades the concept of free trade has become almost universal. Countries that once were collectivist, even communist, embraced free enterprise -
The impact of the financial crisis has put a very large question mark on that development in the minds of some of the people running these economies. A body called Global Trade Alert has reported a very significant growth in trade protection – not serious yet but sufficiently widespread to be worrying. A growth in protection that needs watching.
If more countries adopt protectionist measures, particularly if they are big countries, more particularly of all if they happen to be the United States, their trade rivals will retaliate: this could snowball and have a significant effect on world trade.
We should remember it was not the Wall Street Crash that caused the depression of the 1930s – it was the policies of Protection that followed the Wall Street Crash that caused the damage.
Let me now look at the world that is to come – and start with the most basic issue of all: mankind itself. In the 41 years since America landed a Man on the Moon, world population has doubled. Doubled in 41 years. It now grows by as much every twelve years as it grew in the nineteen hundred years from the birth of Christ to the dawn of the 20th century. Startling, isn’t it?
The trend is accelerating, by 2050 – not far away in planning terms – population will soar to over nine billion souls: this is an increase from today that is equivalent to the population of two more Chinas.
These are not just statistics: they are people. Men, women and children with hopes, fears, ambitions and needs – for food, water, clothing, education, housing, jobs and every basic of life. As we meet today, pretty much about one-
Already, many parts of the Middle-
In North Africa the Nile River has been its supply of water since the dawn of time – but the demands on the Nile will one day become insupportable. In 1900, five million Sudanese depended on the Nile – today it is over 42 million and by 2050 it is forecast to be a minimum of 50 million. Similar statistics apply to every other country alongside the Nile.
The relevance of this is that action is required now to ensure water supply thirty to forty years ahead. But if no-
These population projections aren’t fantasy. They’re reality. But they could become a nightmare unless we prepare.
As population changes so does the future of our world, so does technology. My grandfather -
We can’t know: but we do know the trend of change. Technology is moving ever faster. It’s getting smaller and more powerful. Cheaper and more accessible. It took the telephone 50 years to reach one quarter of America. It has taken Facebook and Google less than 3 years to reach every corner of the world.
Science isn’t emotional. It deals in facts. Several hundred years ago it told us the Earth was not spherical -
Now science and technology is the unstoppable motor that is changing every aspect of our lives.
Consider what it has done. The first integrated circuit -
Nothing in the 20th century has so accelerated change; it led to the computer revolution; to the Digital Age.
Without that crude circuit board there would be no Silicon Valley; no Internet; no laptop; no Google; no iPods; no iPads, no Blackberrys, no Playstations -
A few days ago, scientists captured anti-
As science changes how we live, medical science is changing the quality and the length of our lives. 110 years ago, no-
Technology and medicine are old partners. The first man to assert that blood circulates and is pumped from the heart was William Harvey. But not until the invention of the microscope in the 1650s was this verified by the discovery of the tiny connections between arteries and veins.
In a modern parallel, scientists are examining how to combine computer chip technology with pharmaceutical research so they can target drugs to treat specific parts of the body. Imagine -
Such science is leading a revolution in medical care: advances in engineering techniques have given us insulin pumps for diabetes; cochlea implants for deafness; and there are realistic prospects of repairing nerve cells for sufferers of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It may soon be possible to produce artificial heart muscle cells.
Stem cell research may enable us to grow replacement body parts -
A decade ago, scientists mapped the human genome system. We are daily learning more about how we live and why we die. On the day the mapping was announced, I was lunching with some eminent medical surgeons at one of Britain’s great teaching hospitals.
What does this mean, I asked? It means -
A few years ago, all this would have seemed like Black Magic. Very soon, fantasy will become reality, in a world we are only barely beginning to glimpse.
Change is almost always two-
Consider our Earth: our blue and green planet has altered. Continents have drifted; Oceans have been formed; Africa and South America have split asunder; species have evolved and become extinct.
These changes happened over literally hundreds of millions of years ... but a few thousand years ago -
Now, in the last few decades, we have begun to emit radio waves from television, radar and cell-
This is the defining challenge for the future: can we utilize the science that has given us so many innovations to protect our way of life from the effects of those innovations? Once more, a single contemporary example may suffice.
Science tells us the risks of climate change are real. Arctic summer ice is disappearing faster than we thought: without it, the sea absorbs the sun and melts the perma-
The burning of fossil fuels continues to raise dioxides. Most -
NASA tells us that when temperatures last rose 2-
But here is the dilemma for the policy-
Our modern world is powered by energy. It is indispensable for economic and political stability. A world without readily available energy is a world that cannot power industry, light homes, cook food, drive cars -
Without energy, we return to life before the industrial revolution: it is unthinkable and it is unimaginable. We have been shamefully wasteful of our energy resources in the past half century and are now paying heavily for it. Oil has risen from $3 a barrel to $80 and rising, as demand has grown and grown.
And it will not slacken -
So the role of science is going to be pivotal. It must mitigate the impact of fossil fuel degradation and prepare for the post fossil fuel age: this is still many decades ahead of us but, one day, it will come.
Already science is far advanced in effective methods of capturing and storing carbon before it leaks into the atmosphere although many of the worst polluters around the world don’t yet utilise this technology.
Alternatives are being developed -
We also need science to finalise the electrical car to reduce CO2 emissions. As an estimated 100 million cars are sold each year there will, by next year, be an incredible one billion cars on the planet. An electric motor can make a big contribution.
Challenges such as these are daunting -
As we look ahead there are acute political and social challenges in nearly every country of the world. The rising cost of caring for more elderly people. The provision of pensions for them. Sufficient leisure and work to keep minds occupied and life worthwhile. Such challenges will alter more than the number and the length of lives: they may change nearly everything that is familiar to us.
As we prepare for what lies ahead it is re-
Winston Churchill once referred to Russia as “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.
Much the same could be said of Iran today. Since the flawed re-
The regime, as we might have expected, has responded with repression but, like others before them, they will find that the demand for change, for something better, for a free and open society, is impossible to smother forever. You cannot arrest freedom and keep it in jail.
The fear of a nuclear Iran is real. So is the effect of it. If Iran obtains a weapon, the risk of proliferation is very, very high indeed. Iran worries everyone -
Why is Iran doing this? The economy is in a mess. The currency is weak. Inflation, interest rates and unemployment are all very high. It’s a very sad comedown for a nation that was a great Empire, when the British and Americans lived in mud huts.
Nothing is explicable in Iran without understanding the nature of the regime. It is nationalist and hard-
The President, Ahmadinejad -
What should we do? First, remember the regime is not the nation -
Some advocate military conflict -
The Arab/Israeli dispute colours the view of the Middle East. It spills beyond its own borders and it has scarred politics for decades. And is it not absurd that we know the two-
After several decades, a bilateral negotiated settlement is still far away: many wonder whether if it will ever be possible. Attempts at incremental agreements -
The present situation is close to stalemate. Palestinians are split. Secular Fatah control the West Bank. Islamic Hamas rule in Gaza. Hamas deny the right of Israel to even exist. They will not renounce violence nor accept previous agreements made by Palestinian negotiators. Meanwhile, Israel builds settlements the world deems illegal.
Is there a solution? Yes, of course -
Can the international community allow this dispute to run on and on forever -
Understandably, the protagonists would hate this: but, if both sides take positions that impede progress, what alternative exists?
Will this be difficult? Of course it will. It is a gamble, a high risk toss of the coin, and one that will require great political courage with all concerned. But in the Middle East, as much as anywhere and more important than in most parts of the world, statesmanship is essential to enable the region to fulfil its potential, without fear of conflict.
One conflict is now worldwide. It is important to understand that terror -
This battle against intolerance and unreason is one in which every State has an interest. It is not a short-
But it is one from which no nation can safely exclude itself -
One final thought about the future. Sometimes in politics -
Sometimes I think we should be more aware -
As much of what I have said is about science, let me conclude with a quote from the man Voltaire called “the Father of modern science”.
In the preface to his essays, Francis Bacon -
So have we, in our time, planted things that are likely to last.
Throughout history, change has been an ally. In the future -