King, Alexander 1909-2007

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King, Alexander 1909-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born January 26, 1909, in Glasgow, Scotland; died February 28, 2007. Scientist, environmentalist, civil servant, and author. Best known as a cofounder of the Club of Rome and as director of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), King was concerned about the environmental impact of uncontrolled economic growth and human overpopulation. Originally, King had planned on an academic career in science. He was an alumnus of the Royal College of Science, where he completed a D.Sc. in chemistry in 1940. He taught briefly at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, and even led an expedition to Jan Mayen Island in 1938, before World War II steered him to public service. Working for England's Ministry of Supply, he was an assistant director of scientific research. While there, he came across information about a Swiss company that had discovered a moth-balling agent with low toxicity for humans. King surmised that the chemical could be used for mosquito and lice control to prevent soldiers from becoming sick. Calling the chemical DDT, which is short for Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane, he convinced the Allies to use the pesticide while he was head of the British scientific mission in Washington, DC. In this way, King helped save many lives during the war. Deciding to remain in the Civil Service after the war, King was head of the Scientific Secretariat and adviser to the Lord President of the Council in London in the late 1940s. During the 1950s, he served as chief scientist with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and as director of the European Productivity Agency. The latter was part of what was to become the OECD, and from 1961 until 1974, King was director general for scientific affairs of the organization based in Paris. In this capacity, he was highly influential in motivating policies in Europe concerning the environment and economic growth. In 1967, King met with Aurelio Peccei, then the president of the Italian company Olivetti. Together they founded the Club of Rome, a think tank whose goal was to address public policy for the benefit of the environment. In 1972 the Club of Rome released its important publication The Limits of Growth, in which it warned of the dangers of uncontrolled population and industrial growth. King continued to work with the Club of Rome after his retirement from the OECD, and when Peccei stepped down in 1984 as the club's president, King assumed the leadership role until retiring in 1990. King was the author of several books on science, technology, and the environment, including Science Policy: The International Stimulus (1974), The State of the Planet (1981), and The First Global Revolution (1991), written with Bertrand Schneider. In 2006 he self-published his autobiography, Let the Cat Turn Round: One Man's Traverse of the Twentieth Century.



King, Alexander, Let the Cat Turn Round: One Man's Traverse of the Twentieth Century, privately printed, 2006.


Guardian (London, England), May 2, 2007.

Times (London, England), March 15, 2007, p. 64.