Monday, 2 February 2009

Studying green stuff

I asked a question in parliament last week about 'green collar' jobs and what more could be done to help arts/ humanities students who are passionate about environmental issues and want to work in this field, but don't have the right scientific or techy background to get onto an applied science Masters course. The answer from the Minister was pretty blunt - they should study STEM subjects in the first place, at A level and at uni. And then he told us what the Government is doing to encourage this, which seems to be paying off.

Actually, I almost didn't get to ask the question because the Table Office objected to my wording which was to ask the Sec of State “What steps he is taking to encourage more people to develop the skills required for green-collar jobs through studying science, engineering and technology subjects at universities.” I got 'carded' which means you get a postcard telling you to call the Table Office to 'discuss' your question. The clerk wanted to know what proof I had of a connection between acquiring such skills and getting green collar jobs, which kind of stumped me because I thought it was obvious. I started explaining about things like green technology and renewables, and then he wanted me just to ask about renewables, and I said there were lots of other uses to which science could be put... but couldn't off the top of my head think of any examples. I may, I fear, have mentioned compost. (It's biology!)

Anyway, here's a good one: geo-engineering the oceans. Can't decide if I should be excited by it, or alarmed, or cynical, or just baffled. But I think if students thought they could end up working on something like this, a few more of them might want to study science.


Chris Hutt said...

I hate to say it but I think your minister was probably right. An understanding of the principles of scientific inquiry, and maths, is a necessary foundation for dealing with 'green' issues.

Having been involved in some aspects of the green agenda for most of my life I have always been uncomfortable with the more emotive responses of many 'greens'. The long standing opposition to nuclear power was a good example. It was based in part on a failure to appreciate the small scale of of the risks involved, which relates to statistical probability.

At the same time as understanding something of the underlying scientific and mathematical principles, 'green' practitioners need to understand the limitations of a purely technocratic approach. Human emotions will inevitably play a major role in real world politics.

Paul said...


not sure what you are asking, many science disciplines can be utilised for 'green' activities.

Almost all engineering for example - designing wind and wave turbines.

In terms of arty stuff there are a number of designers making furniture, clothing and other items from recycled goods.

A raft of environmental jobs in care of the natural environment (although when I was at Uni - same time as you the two degrees with the lowest employment rates were philospophy and zoology).

Our re-use sector includes electrical engineers

I could go on - and often do

Hughes Views said...

I'm rather with the Minister and Chris Hutt on this. If people don't have enough scientific or mathematical inclination to have studied such subjects at school they're unlikely to be able to cope with the complexities of most serious environmental projects.

Instead of trying to be poor scientists, non-technical people ought to put their trust in peer-reviewed specialists and then use their own (perhaps softer) skills to promote genuine environmental issues and solutions. But, alas, this is pretty unlikely given the levels of cynicism around and the desire to be an instant, effort-free expert in everything and/or to believe the "maverick scientist". The latter seems a particular fault of many journalists.

Many non-technical people in the environmental movement seem alas to be more comfortable sticking to passionate/emotion-based pseudo-scientific anti-establishment type of campaigns that so often distort real progress.

Dick the Prick said...

Loving the idea about pumping carbon emissions into the gaps made by extraction of oil & gas - how cool is that?

There was an episode of Porridge where Mckay asks Fletcher where he put the debris from building an escape tunnel and Fletcher replies
"we dug another tunnel".