Scientists in Centre for Sustainability podcast

torenWhat choices do we have towards the energy transition? Is the circular economy a solution for sustainability problems? How can we prepare for climate change? The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability has launched a podcast series on these topical sustainability themes.

This spring, Fenna Plaisier from the Centre for Sustainability interviewed scientists and academics to produce the podcast 'Uit de Ivoren Toren’ (Out of the Ivory Towers) in collaboration with Studio Klaenk. We were curious about Fenna's motives. 

What gave you the idea for this podcast?

'The idea came about at the 40th anniversary of the Leiden Institute of Environmental Sciences, which was devoted to the theme, ‘Sustainability in a post-fact society endangered by populists’. One of the speakers was MEP Bas Eickhout who said to a room full of scientists: ‘Where are you? We need you in the political arena to help us to interpret the facts. We see plenty of lobbyists in Brussels, but we don’t see you.’ That’s what got the podcasts going.'

Why did you chose to use podcast as a medium to get your message across?

'A podcast is a good way of conveying scientific knowledge understandably in a short space of time. People often lack the time to read articles or to ask themselves how one should interpret certain information. In this podcast, the scientific findings are put in a societal context and the scientists engage in topical, political discussions.

TukkerFor example, in the episode about the circular economy, Arnold Tukker calculates why we cannot have endless growth – because in that case the entire Earth’s surface should be covered with solar panels – but he also explains that instability can develop if the economy stops growing. This shows the tension between what we want and what we can realise. It also shows knowledge is still lacking.'

The episode with materials specialist Erik Offerman from TU Delft is another good example. Where Arnold Tukker applies a system approach to explain what we need to work on to become really circular and sustainable, Erik Offerman explains the complexity of increasing the sustainability of the materials themselves. He estimates that it will take another hundred years to design materials in such a way that they can all be reused. While politicians aim for a circular society within 50 years from now. This shows a tensity, I think, people ought to know. The podcast series demonstrates how complex sustainability is as a subject and why it makes sense to approach it from different scientific disciplines.'

How have scientists experienced taking part in the podcast and who will be involved in the second series?

'They really enjoyed taking part! The title of our podcast ‘Out of the Ivory Towers’ appeals to a lot of scientists, because they are already doing all they can to make a difference outside the university walls. Anyone who would like to take part or has a good idea for this podcast series can email me at'

The episodes of the podcast that have already appeared (in Dutch) are:

Waterstof, wat kunnen wij ermee - Hydrogen, what's the use? - with Professor Ad van Wijk and Lidewij van Trigt, TU Delft
Renewable energy remains a difficult problem. How can we ensure that we have enough clean energy in the right place and at the right time? Are there any other solutions alongside solar and wind energy?  

Hoge Torens vangen veel wind - Tall towers attract the wind - with Professor Ellen van Bueren, TU Delft
Cities are becoming overcrowded. We want to live and work and spend quality time there and be able to easily move from A to B. In recent years, residential tower blocks have been built fast and furious. Are they really the solution to our housing needs?  

Circulaire groei, feit of fabel? - Circular growth, fact or fiction? - with Professor Arnold Tukker, Leiden University
What is the circular economy? Why can’t we achieve endless growth? Why are we currently incapable of doing without growth?

Graven voor groene energie - Digging for green energy - with dr. René Kleijn, Leiden University
Solar panels on the roof, an electric car and shares in a wind farm, you may think you are doing the right thing. But what are the consequences and where do all required materials come from?

Voedselbossen: voor spek en bonen - Food forests: is it worth it? - with dr. Maarten Schrama, Leiden University
What will our agriculture be like in 100 years’ time? Scientists and politicians strongly differ in opinion on this. At the heart of the debate are food forests: an agricultural method that is at odds with current ideas about efficient food production.  

Urban mining: van hot naar hier - Urban Mining: from pillar to post - with dr. Benjamin Sprecher, Leiden University
The biggest problem is not that raw materials are running out but that the quality of life is diminishing. Why has Urban Mining become such a hot topic? What do geopolitical power structures have to do with it?

Kritieke Materialen: een sterk staaltje - Critical materials show their mettle - with dr. Erik Offerman, TU Delft
Our world is made of all kinds of different materials that form the building blocks of our existence. The circular economy is all about how we deal with these materials.

Listen to the podcast 'Uit de Ivoren Toren' via Buzzsprout, Spotify and iTunes.

More information:
Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre fo Sustainability
Podcast-serie Uit de Ivoren toren op Buzzsprout

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