Thursday, December 21, 2006

Education and the Environment

The ongoing weakness of British scientific education - engineering, physics, mathematics and natural sciences - has been widely discussed. The seeming inability of Britain's businesses to harness the inventive power of the UK's scientists and engineers is also much lamented. These issues are usually seen in the context of the decline of Britain's long term international economic competitiveness.

However, they may be even more important than this.

The UK has long been a hub of scientific advance - the Industrial Revolution was born on these shores and the proportion of recent inventions is significantly higher than our population, or relative GDP would warrant. A recent BBC webpage lists the computer, the pill, the photo-copier, aspirin, television, the mobile phone, the jet engine and the flushing toilet...

It may well be that there is something in the British education system or character that means that - even though we struggle to organise the latest in cutting edge manufacturing processes - we have an inventive streak that few others can match.

If so, the decline of our science grad output may mean that the pool of inventors who might just help save the environment is getting smaller. Less scientific grads means less inventions means less chance for useful inventions for the environment. This alone obviously will not be enough to tackle climate change (indeed it sounds rather like a George Bush policy). The Liberal Democrats have the right set of tax policies to begin to move in the right direction, but break-through technology would surely help.

Then again, my first degree was in medieval history so what do I know?

1 comment:

Tristan said...

We definitely need technological advance, we will fail in the challenges we face if we do not achieve these.

We also need to study the climate more, we still don't know what the effects of climate change will actually be, or even the extent and major causes (beyond human action, which is probably one of several causes).

The other thing we need is green taxation. By this I don't mean the stupid tax on imports from non-Kyoto countries as France recently suggested, that's simply protectionism wrapped in green paper. We need proper taxes based on the cost of pollution (not just carbon emissions, but all pollution- we face many other environmental problems). These should be instead of, not as well as existing taxation, and they also need to be international... (there's the big problem...)

We can of course make a start on this ourselves, which is why the green tax proposals are so important. These will tax actual pollution, not popular targets (such as SUVs) the targeting of which has minimal (or sometimes negative) effect.