“Experts” have had a raised profile during the Covid-19 pandemic, standing – albeit somewhat embarrassed – alongside Boris Johnson during his press conferences. In coping with health-related matters, scientific advice is crucial. We will also need optimally applied science in meeting other global challenges: developing affordable clean energy, feeding the world and preserving the environment.
The UK has for centuries punched above its weight in science and invention. It’s crucial to sustain our standing in a more competitive world: if we don’t get smarter, we’ll get poorer. Enough of our brightest and best must opt for science, engineering and technology, as millions do each year in east Asia.
It’s crucial that young people – savvy about trends and anxiously choosing a career – should perceive the UK as a place where a culture of innovation flourishes. Our schools, universities and hi-tech businesses must all perform well if we are to prosper. Indeed, it will be challenging to even achieve the goals that we’ve set ourselves already.
For instance, Britain’s target of cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, proclaimed in the 2019 Climate Change Act, is a daunting one. It means not just decarbonising existing electricity generation from coal and gas, but more than doubling the amount of electricity generated. This extra is required not only for electric cars and trucks, but for electrolytic production of the liquid and gas fuels – hydrogen, methane and kerosene – needed for aviation.