Public engagement is one of the most critical yet, arguably, least researched aspects of carbon capture and storage (CCS). A poor understanding of the technicalities of CCS, the context and issues in which the technology fits, and the benefits and risks involved leads to uneducated decision making at the local level. Without local support, CCS projects both onshore and offshore face similar hurdles to windfarm placements, shale gas extraction, nuclear waste storage, and so forth. So, despite the overwhelming benefits of CCS (assuming one sees reduction in CO2 emissions as a benefit to society), projects will falter at the first steps.
This is not my area of expertise, however, although something I find very interesting. Sadly, though, I don’t do enough to be involved in public engagement/outreach/education/awareness. This blog is my only regular means of public outreach, but so far I have not talked a lot about CCS or the particular issues which I research. Nor does my blog enjoy a wide circulation [yet]. But that’s not to say that I haven’t done anything.
Nearly two years ago I was dragged in front of a camera by my colleague, Dr. Leslie Mabon, to help in the production of a “talking heads” video for public engagement in a project Leslie was working on. You can read about the production process here. There was no rehearsal or repeating bits, and because I’d been grabbed in the corridor, I didn’t have a script to read or anything like that. So I had zero time to prepare and had to think on the spot what it was I wanted to communicate about my research in a short video segment. This was also within my first year of my PhD, and although I had a good grasp of how my research fitted into the context of CCS in the UK, I was not as comfortable as I am now with the issues of potential environmental impacts of CCS in the UK North Sea and how they can be communicated effectively.
The video is below. Some of my fellow researchers at the University of Edinburgh (also part of Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS)) were also asked to talk to the camera, including fellow first year PhD students Claire McCraw, Johannes Miocic and Jamie Stewart. One of my supervisors, and the world’s first professor of CCS (probably), Prof. Stuart Haszeldine also appears. My appearance is at 1:51, recognisable by the long hair and the blinking…
What I didn’t realise at the time was the level of discussion my little segment would generate when it was shown to the public. Leslie discusses this on his blog, but I’m actually pleased that this is something that people felt was worth discussing. The environmental aspects of CCS in the North Sea is still up for debate, and there may or may not be issues to do with marine pollution from certain aspects of CCS activities. The results of my research is something I will discuss in more detail at a later date (i.e. when I have published on it!), but I personally believe that the environmental risks are essentially low when compared to existing North Sea industry. Watch this space.
As a bonus, I have another video for you. In 2011 I graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MSc in CCS. I was asked by the University to be interviewed for a video to promote the MSc course. That video was filmed at a similar time to the talking heads one, above, although clearly I’ve had a haircut in this one:
This was much more professionally done, with a director, rehearsal time and so on. I knew what I wanted to say, and nothing I said was particularly controversial. Someone pointed out that, to paraphrase, “bad students would never say that their Masters thesis was the best part of their course“. A compliment, for sure, and I wouldn’t be doing my PhD now if I hadn’t enjoyed the lab work and thesis writing. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the student lifestyle, however, and I thoroughly enjoyed my Masters experience (and not just bunking off early to the pub).