Talking to Sam Shaw

The Citizen‘s editorial board had a sit-down today with Sam Shaw, the president of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, an Edmonton institution that produces thousands of skilled workers for the oilpatch and its spinoffs (among other industries).

You can hear the recording for yourself here (and ones with David Suzuki and Stéphane Dion and Elizabeth May, too).

Shaw had a couple of interesting things to say that are relevant here. We asked him about the state of environmental engineering and technology education in Canada these days — where they’re doing particularly interesting research, and so on. Naturally he cited his own school, but he also observed that environmental and ethical considerations are decreasingly seen as niches, and increasingly integrated into the regular curriculum. So you’re not, as you might think, getting oilpatch engineers who are trained exclusively to drag up as much bitumen as possible and forget everything else, going head-to-head in regulatory processes with other engineers who’d rather they didn’t do any exploitation at all.

I don’t know that I buy that this is universal, but it’s a positive development that a guy like Shaw thinks it’s really important.

We also got him off on a bit of a tangent about the practicality of fuel cells (this starts around the 53-minute mark of the MP3), in which he pointed out that we as a culture are very likely to rethink our business and distribution models to incorporate green technology. So for instance, one of the many things holding back fuel-cell cars is that hardly anybody’s prepared to sell hydrogen at the roadside to power them (the West Coast’s “Hydrogen Highway” being the only even nominal exception). But maybe the technology for mass-market cars that run on rechargeable fuel cells will involve plugging them in at home to recharge rather than refilling them with “charged” hydrogen at a pump — maybe the gas-station model is entirely the wrong one to consider.


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