Offshore wind design
Employment – 2 half empty glasses could make one full one
We’ve heard the news headlines. Tens of thousands of European and US truck drivers now face redundancy because of autonomous (self-driving) lorries – noting that vehicles controlled by algorithms rather than humans are more fuel-efficient, and therefore carbon-efficient.
( Text content written by Twenty6 for LIC Energy )
Meanwhile, we have a serious skills shortage; tens of thousands of people with constantly-evolving specialist skill sets are needed to tackle the huge challenge of installing, operating and continuously upgrading the future generations of low-carbon technology that can help us stop the worst impacts of climate change in their tracks.
Of course, you can see the point I’m making with this. We need two half empty glasses to come together to make one very full one. The problem at the moment is that the two half glasses are not quite compatible.
However, this is where we – and that includes the Government – can and must act quickly to guarantee a much smoother transition. As I explain below, with more enlightened planning I think this is entirely possible.
It’s all about education, education, education. Going back to school in the future will need to be an entirely different experience!
Learning to live with non-stop change
The difference between today’s half glass and tomorrow’s half glass is the pace of technology. Our response has to be that we change the way we educate and train people – young and not so young. Purely factual learning will be out. Flexible conceptual learning will be in. Re-training ourselves regularly will become the norm, to the point where we’ll have to continuously re-learn how to learn!
If we do this correctly, the next generation will be able to face a much more dynamic world with a well-justified sense of self-confidence.
How will technology change? At the moment, and in the immediate future, we have an urgent need to install solar panels and electric vehicle (EV) charging points, to retro-fit old buildings, whilst continuing to create and maintain an impressive and cost-efficient fleet of deep-water offshore wind turbines. Blade manufacture, for example, is now an extremely sophisticated process.
But as we look 10 years or so ahead, the technologies and skills of the future will inevitably move on. Again, for example, today’s domestic EV chargers could be very different from what we might see in 2022. In five years’ time, cars will perhaps be charged via induction coils embedded in stretches of ordinary road tarmac. Who knows?
And it won’t end there. Technology and adaptable skills will be needed not only for energy and transport – including the gestating low-carbon aviation revolution – but also sustainable agriculture and fishing, food production and construction. Reaching 2050’s zero-carbon goal will involve radical changes to every aspect of society emitting carbon. The only exempt human activity could be respiration! Cows may not fare so well. A meat-based diet involves bovine flatulence on a global-scale; methane levels released by livestock have recently been found to be 11% higher than previous IPCC estimates, according to a new study published by the journal Carbon Balance and Management (https://cbmjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13021-017-0084-y) and reported in The Guardian on 29 September. Methane from cattle was a significant global greenhouse gas problem even before these findings. What impacts will this have on the job roles for us in this area?
How do we create a full glass?
So how do we make sure that we don’t end up with high unemployment, slow decarbonisation and run-away climate change? I believe we need to address three fundamental points.
1 – A continued, strengthened commitment to the 2015 Paris agreement designed to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees centigrade.
2 – A pan-society mechanism that increases the cost of carbon to temper ‘bad-climate’ behaviour.
3 – Recognition that the problem can only be solved by appropriately educated, trained and re-trained people in their billions.
On point 1, former UN climate change Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, said on 3 October that she is confident that the sheer number of businesses taking a leading stance on the Paris agreement goals will hit a critical mass “pretty soon”. That is positive. Our governments must follow this lead.
Global carbon taxes are what I have in mind for point 2. They are needed to level the playing field with fossil fuels. The cost of carbon will be particularly important in extending ‘pressure to move in the right direction’ out over all our activities, from farming to pedicure, technology to gambling.
Point 3 ought to be the easiest to deliver, because WE are some of the required human resource. If the Government wants a win-win solution to keep society functioning happily and healthily, it needs to invest in education. The most obvious opportunity is to invest in training for the skills that a low-carbon transition will involve, plus training centres to provide this. It is quite possible to anticipate what we need.
As an example, the Centre for Alternative Technology, aka CAT, has created a very credible vision of the future called ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ that is consistent with Paris aspirations ( http://zerocarbonbritain.com). This is a first-class template. CAT also offers educational courses and has used its vision to determine what the next steps in the low-carbon transition are likely to be and therefore what skills will be needed. It has even taken the bold step of adjusting its MSc courses in line with the vision to keep students well-equipped for the transition.
Central Government should take note and use this proactive approach as a template!
But we also need to make radical changes to our general educational system for 5 to 18-year-olds. At school I was taught facts, plus how to pass exams. I feel lucky that I gained a lot from my school-days. However, I worry that the same system cannot equip today’s young people for what is in store for them.
At university, the learning approach was wider. Rather than being taught facts, I was taught concepts that can be applied over and over again to very different situations. This is a much more useful lifelong toolbox. Facts are easy to forget. Concepts tend to stick.
We also spent a lot of time at university learning what seemed at the time to be peripheral stuff. Why would a structural engineer want to know about power systems, machines, computers and the undiluted thrills of thermodynamics? Why did I need to know how to write an essay?
How wrong I was. This ‘wasted time’ at university has paid dividends over the years. It’s all been really useful, and has equipped me for the broader requirements of the workplace. Back to university for us all then!
Looking ahead: I think we need to think hard about how to teach our young people the process of learning itself. Some factual knowledge is, of course, essential. Understanding how society works, for example, is mandatory. William the Conqueror and 1066 optional.
But the brand new elements we must learn are the ability to be comfortable and happy when the world itself is shifting around us, and for all young people to leave the basic education system with a decent dose of self-confidence. All too often, we fail on the last point, with the education system leaving you with an understanding of what you can’t do, rather than what you can.
I believe this is absolutely critical. Gone are the days of a job for life. Perhaps we need to expect to re-train on average every 10 years throughout our working lives of 60 or 70 years.
With the right approach, the future glass can be very full. We already understand the challenges and the opportunities. If we plan properly NOW, we can expect brilliant and exciting jobs for the decades to come. We must do it, we CAN do it, and we will do it.