How Geoscientists Can Help to Build Sustainable Economies
Hope, Mark, Shell
Exploration & Production Europe,
The 20th century saw unprecedented economic development, driven largely by technology and innovation. However this was achieved at enormous cost in environmental and social terms: the enormity of the cost is only now becoming apparent. It is clear that man’s use of limited natural resources in the 21st century must be much smarter and more efficient if we are not to seriously erode the planet’s human carrying capacity. There are no easy answers to the complex challenges involved but it is possible to identify some elements of the solution and geoscientists have a number of skills which are likely to prove invaluable. Economic development to date has been based upon cheap energy. In line with the polluter pays principle, this is going to change as the producers and users of fossil fuels progressively have to bear the costs associated with pollution and climate change. But the transition to renewables and perhaps hydrogen will take several decades and CO2 sequestration is likely to be a pre-requisite of any major expansion of fossil fuel use. Without mitigation of CO2, oil & gas will lose out to nuclear energy which although expensive and environmentally unattractive, is almost CO2 free.
Economics itself will evolve as a discipline as we get better at incorporating long-run environmental and social costs and benefits. The training of engineers and scientists is already adapting to this reality. As energy gets more expensive, we will get smarter at finding it and less profligate in using it. Choices regarding which fossil fuels to develop will be influenced by our skill at finding & producing them, but also by the perceived environmental costs: remote/pristine areas and unconventionals will both have substantial hurdles to overcome.