Friday, May 24, 2024

Geoscientists are well positioned to play pivotal role in energy education

Adequate, affordable, and available energy lies at the centre of modern human existence.

Energy for food, shelter, warmth, and transportation enables long, healthy and productive lives. Yet many in our society have lost sight of this fundamental truth, caught up in a blinkered focus on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. As a result, people and industries in many high-income nations are experiencing energy shortages, or are paying so much for energy that they cannot put adequate food on their tables or run their businesses.

The world is not short of energy. Oil, gas, and coal supply more than 80% of the energy we use today, hydroelectricity and nuclear fission are proven contributors, and alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass contribute more each year. But policymakers driven by the “climate crisis” narrative want to govern humanity’s future based on estimates of GHG emissions and projections of their effects on climate, without duly considering energy security.

A lot of people are suffering because of that critical disconnect.

It is important that we as a society appreciate the central role energy plays in our lives. In fact, most people in lower-income nations do understand, because they spend much of their time securing basic energy, food, and shelter without the support of adequate fuels or electricity.

However, many in wealthier nations have grown up with electricity at the flip of a switch, natural gas in a furnace that cycles on when the temperature drops, and gasoline in their vehicles. They take cheap and available energy for granted because they have never known anything different.

So humanity, particularly people living in high-income nations, is in desperate need of a sound, fundamental education on energy. I have written a lot about that over the past few years, based in part on my academic background as a geoscientist and the experiences I have gained in my resource-centred geoscience career.

I believe that geoscientists are well qualified to educate people about the complex world of energy and associated environmental issues, including greenhouse gas emissions. Why? Think about this:

  • Geoscientists are trained as scientists, with exposure to a broad spectrum of scientific fields (geophysics, geochemistry, paleontology to name a few). Our undergraduate training addresses the fundamentals of climate (past and present), we understand proper collection and interpretation of scientific evidence, and we understand and work with computer-generated models. Perhaps most critically, geoscientists are familiar with the huge roles that assumptions and uncertainty play in scientific interpretation.
  • Geoscientists understand energy resources. We appraise and develop resources ranging from oil and gas to the growing list of metals and minerals critical to changing energy systems – lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt, helium and others.
  • Geoscientists know that investors need a clear line of sight to profit in order to support investment in new ideas and projects – and that line of sight must include regulatory certainty and reasonably assured markets and pricing.
  • Geoscientists, along with our friends the engineers, routinely work multi-year time frames between concept and execution, whether in resource discovery and development or in facility and infrastructure construction. We know that things get built following orderly and complete schedules, regardless of targets set and commitments made (e.g., all new vehicles to be EVs by 2035) by people who do not share our practical insights.

Geoscientists are not unique in their scope of learning and experience, and they certainly do not all agree on all important issues around energy and environment. But most have a solid understanding of issues and realities around two of the most critical issues of the day – energy and climate.

So, I believe geoscientists should raise their voices. They should bring their knowledge and experience to the table to educate friends and neighbours, and ultimately societal decision-makers, about the critical importance of having adequate, affordable, and available energy for every person on earth – and how difficult it will be to achieve that goal.

 

Brad Hayes
Brad Hayes
Brad Hayes has a PhD in geology from the University of Alberta and is president of Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd., a geoscience consulting firm addressing technical and strategic issues around oil and gas development, water resource management, helium exploration, geothermal energy, and carbon sequestration. He is an adjunct professor in the University of Alberta Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
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