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To solve our energy crises interdisciplinary engineering becomes critical Quintus Potgieter

Future generations will judge us for not taking the necessary precautions to offset the effects of climate change on our world. The blame will inevitably involve our reticence to cut down on fossil fuels. In reality, however, the task is massive and will rely on science, technology, engineering and government all committing to solving the problem.

Mark Lynas, a British journalist and environmentalist, has been issuing warnings since 2007. He explains what will happen to the world if the earth continues to warm, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.

In one chapter he writes about the Palmer Drought Severity Index — a computerized forecast run by the Hadley Centre at Britain's Meteorological Office. This computer model calculates the likelihood of drought in the century to come. In 2007 he wrote the following:

"The results were deeply troubling. The incidence of moderate drought doubled by 2100 — but worst of all, the figure for extreme drought (currently 3 percent of the planet's land surface) rose to 30 percent. In essence, a third of the land surface of the globe would be largely devoid of fresh water and therefore no longer habitable to humans."


This prediction is based on global warming of higher than one degree. And according to a recent study published in the Nature Journal, the Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes that by 2100 the temperature will rise by 2 to 4.9 degrees Celsius.

Adrian Raftery, the author of the study, said:

"The likely range of global temperature increase is 2.0-4.9 (degrees Celsius) and our median forecast is 3.2 Celsius. Our model is based on data which already show the effect of existing emission mitigation policies. Achieving the goal of less than 1.5 C warming will require carbon intensity to decline much faster than in the recent past."

Importance of education and teamwork

Experts believe that if engineering disciplines come together to figure out a path forward, the looming water and energy crises can be solved. However, with universities still catering to individual subjects, a shake-up in education needs to occur.

This, according to a study entitled, Adapting to Engineering Education Vision 2020, published by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.

The authors say that in many countries universities have pursued curricula that teach students ‘soft skills' instead of the ‘professional skills' required for engineers. And yet the world needs competent engineers if they are to solve existing and growing crises.

Technological advancement is making it easier for humans to solve the world's most pressing issues. With the right education people will be well placed to manipulate these new technologies to create positive outcomes.

The authors of the report write:

“It is not possible without putting the emerging bio, nano, and info technologies together in power and energy research laboratories under interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches. Electrical engineers badly need the supportive hand of energy scientists and technologies to overcome global power, energy, food, and water crises. Engineers and scientists often find it difficult to tolerate each other and usually end up with duplicate resources without presentable output which requires motivation to develop teamwork spirit to succeed.”

The authors believe students who have an affinity for energy in chemistry subjects will eventually work in new fuel cells or solar cells. This would provide a great opportunity for engineers and scientists to work together. They say that scientists and engineers are stuck in ‘discipline defense politics' and are squandering this chance to collaborate.

Interdisciplinary curricula within degree programs are helping to equip students to tackle current world problems. The authors of the study point out that an updated engineering curriculum might see the following modules present in the coursework: renewable energy, molecular electronics, polymer solar cells, solar paints, and photochemistry.

The authors conclude:

“Future energy supply to society is a big challenge that individual disciplines cannot harness alone without developing a spirit of interdisciplinary research and development. Keeping in view world energy sources and global power needs, we must readjust our energy wasting attitudes and prepare our generation to cope with future power and energy crisis.”


Works Cited

Raftery, Adrian E., et al. “Less than 2 °C Warming by 2100 Unlikely.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 31 July 2017, www.nature.com/articles/nclimate3352.

“Six Degrees by Mark Lynas.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/book/show/227477.Six_Degrees.

Yasmin, Musarat, et al. “Adapting to Engineering Education Vision 2020.” Proceedings, vol. 2, no. 21, 2018, p. 1365., doi:10.3390/proceedings2211365.

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