Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Last November, in the framework of the third EAGE Global Energy Transition conference in Den Haag, I was invited to a panel discussion about the adjustments in education and training within the geoscience community to help achieve the ambitious global goal of net zero.
I want to share here some thoughts which came to my mind in preparation for this panel discussion.
How geoscience helps achieve Net Zero
The need for reskilling and upskilling concerns many of the geoscientists working in the oil industry. In fact the Net Zero Road Map published last year in May by the International Energy Agency mentions 14 million jobs created by 2030 thanks to new activities and investment in clean energy but these jobs are in different locations, skills set and sectors than the 5 million jobs that will be lost as fossil fuels decline.
What can we anticipate about the role the geoscientists will play in the energy transition? I see geoscientists playing a critical role at the center of several interconnected challenges, from energy to climate, environment, and resources. In fact, “environmental risks” appears to be central to the role that the geoscientists will probably play, according to the results of a study which I conducted in 2020 using an AI decision support system around the question "What are the geoscience skills for the workplace of the future to address the energy transition challenges?". It is interesting to note that for a question centered on the energy transition, environmental risks, along with geotechnical engineering and soft-skills turned out to be prominent aspects. The conclusion which comes natural is that geoscientists play an important role in reliably predicting, preventing and mitigating risks.
Considering the intricacy of energy, climate, environment and resources, it is important to preserve the basic competencies that geoscientists acquire during their studies. The study of the earth's processes encompasses many sciences and fosters a holistic view. A geologist should easily grasp the concept of the physical limits of our planet, a point which is apparently overlooked in many traditional economic models. How many people are conscious that human beings appeared on Earth only in the last few seconds of a symbolic day representing the entire Earth's history?
What is needed nowadays in any scientific and technical curriculum is also to imagine the scientists or engineers as citizens, capable of working in interdisciplinarity, conscious of the societal impacts of their decisions, capable of communicating and interacting outside of the scientific community.
Critical thinking, reflexivity, questioning one's own views
One of the questions that Tobias Rudolph, panel moderator, asked the panelists to think about was: “The energy transition requires broad and public participation. But the transition is technically complex, so what should we do?”
Obviously there is no easy answer to this question. Addressing the energy transition requires being prepared to solve dilemmas, as often there is not an easy choice. We should keep in mind the interconnections between energy transition and climate change. It is important to be able to work at all levels of a system so that, in addition to the capacity of reacting to unexpected events as they occur, also anticipation, resilience and action on the root causes of these events are considered. Curricula should stress system thinking and interdisciplinarity. Life cycle analysis of products and services can be used to evaluate the ecological, social and societal impacts of technical choices, without forgetting to include feedback loops, delays and interdependence of the elements of the system. Historical and prospective views help understand how we have come to the current situation and how to progress, on the basis of reasonable scenarii. It is important to use critical thinking and reflexivity: what is our way of thinking according to our values? Should we question our values? Actually, critical thinking and reflexivity, questioning one's own views are issues at the heart of the online coaching program “Navigating challenges and opportunities of the energy transition” which I am preparing with Esther Bloem and Gwenola Michaud.
Another question was about the challenge of attracting students in STEM and particularly in Geoscience.
Various ideas can be brought in on this subject. I concentrate on one issue: increase the size of the recruit nursery by seeking and correcting the structural causes of gender imbalance in STEM. If in many scientific disciplines, gender parity is far from being achieved, Engineering is distinguished by the extremely low number of women who engage in it. For instance, UK statistics from the website stemwomen.com on the bases of data from the The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, says that between 2017 and 2018 only 19% of students enrolled in Engineering & Technology, were women. Concerning geoscience, I find quite interesting the data published in 2020 by ENGIE in the report on the status of geoscience education in Europe . In 2018, while, with the exception of few countries, the number of female students in geoscience in general is close to or even larger than 50% (for instance 61% in Iceland), when we look at geo-engineering and mining, the figure drops easily to around 20% and even 0%.
Seeking a more balanced situation is a necessity especially if we want to address the energy transition and climate change where different perspectives are essential for the systemic approach mentioned earlier.
Many thanks to the EAGE , to the organizers of the GET2022 and to the panel moderator Tobias Rudolph for inviting me to this discussion along with Emer Caslin, Peter Goerke-Mallet , Henk Jaap Kloosterman, Maren Kleemeyer
Photo credit - EAGE during the panel discussion "Geoscience and the pathway to Net Zero: How geoscience helps to achieve an ambitious global goal", November 8th, 2022 at the GET2022, 3rd EAGE Global Energy Transition 7-9 November 2022, Den Haag