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Climate issues and the energy transition must have the highest priority in the cooperation with Rotterdam and Leiden, argues Menno Blaauw.
Menno Blaauw: "Climate-nagging is very much called for here!" (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Climate issues and the energy transition must have the highest priority in the cooperation with Rotterdam and Leiden, argues Menno Blaauw.

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Big news at our Dies Natalis with media follow-up: TU Delft will collaborate, or even converge, with Leiden University and Erasmus University and Medical Centre. The walls between alpha, beta and gamma disciplines have to be torn down if we are to achieve maximum impact for a better society. We can't do it alone, we heard our Rector Magnificus say to the Works Council in December. And to quote his Dies Natalis speech, its about ‘challenges such as climate change, the energy transition, increasing urbanisation and an ageing population’.

All wonderful. His speech then went on to list the three main themes, totalling EUR 2.5 billion over 10 years.

  1. EUR 0.9 billion for Health and Technology;
  2. EUR 1.2 billion for Artificial Intelligence;
  3. EUR 0.4 billion for a nameless theme where ‘enormous transitions in the fields of climate, energy, economy, health and demography’ are being addressed through a ‘network of living labs’ in Rotterdam.

Do you see the relationship between the challenges and the themes, and the order theyre in? I see that EUR 0.9 billion goes to enhancing ageing; EUR 1.2 billion to a tool that is fun to tinker with and can be used in all kinds of research (but is not a societal challenge); and a measly EUR 0.4 billion to the first three societal challenges. So measly that the amount is not even mentioned in the speech, I had to calculate it myself from the other amounts mentioned.

Ouch.

Climate-nagging is very much called for here! After all, the issue of the ageing population will resolve itself if we don‘t make the energy transition super-fast. My son's life expectancy is no longer determined by the development of technically advanced, artificially intelligent robot surgeons in future hospitals, but by sea levels, natural disasters, wars over scarce living space, and the availability of drinking water. With today’s life expectancy, I would love to give my own years beyond 80 to my son.

The highest possible urgency is for technology that stops or even reverses greenhouse gas emissions (called Negative Emission Technologies), and CO2 free technology that produces a lot of energy. Soon we will have to live with less transport, little or no flying, and we will have to make do with less than we have now. A big transition indeed!

We could really see something beautiful emerge

The thorium-burning molten-salt reactors will have to be built, along with public support for them. Waste incineration must become superfluous through re-use. Cycling and walking must become more attractive to everyone than driving a car, and commuting made unattractive. There are, of course, many more examples of challenges.

There is a lot of work to be done for almost all the faculties at TU Delft, and plenty of opportunities for Erasmus University, I would think. There is some research on their website that is heading in the right direction, and if their Public Administration, Business Administration and Econometrics were to converge with the climate sciences and the work of TU Delft in jointly assessing the potential impact of disaster scenarios and solutions, and to find ways to manage them, we could really see something beautiful emerge.

Cooperation with other parties should always be a means to achieve our strategic goals, not an end in itself. We have to make sure, bottom-up, that we do not allow money or effort to be diverted to today’s ageing generation at the expense of future generations.

What will the Works Council and the Student Council advise this month? We'll see.

What can you do yourself? Simple. The Rector is holding meetings on the cooperation plans on 21 April and 15 June. Contribute to the discussion there.                                 

After working there as a scientist for 20 years, Dr Menno Blaauw is now the Integrated Management System Programme Manager at the Reactor Institute. He is also a member of the Work’s Council.

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