New kids on the block: How Minecraft is shaping the next generation of green workers during lockdown

With 1.5 billion children globally unable to attend school during the lockdown, companies including TEDEd, EIT InnoEnergy and the makers of gaming sensation Minecraft have rolled out engaging online content aimed at harnessing the momentum of the 2019 climate strikes.

New kids on the block: How Minecraft is shaping the next generation of green workers during lockdown

Because of the coronavirus

There is a tendency to make sweeping observations when it comes to generations – from avocado-loving Millennials to technophobic “baby boomers”. Even children aren’t immune to this form of labelling, with observations noting that they appear to be tethered to technology, ranging from streaming services, smartphones and games.

During the lockdown, however, many of us are treating those technologies as home comforts. Netflix, for example, has more than doubled the number of new subscribers it expected in the last three months as more people signed up amid the coronavirus pandemic. Online shooter game Fortnite, on the other hand, had more than 12 million people log onto its platform for a virtual Travis Scott concert, in a sign of what could be to come in the brand-new coupling of entertainment streaming and multiplayer video games.

Evidently the way we consume entertainment is changing, but for the parents at home with children during lockdown, rest assured that education is also changing.

From Joe Wicks’s virtual PE lessons to children dialling into class via Zoom and Skype, we are entering into a new virtual era – and one that many platforms are using to promote sustainability and climate change.

Because of the coronavirus, more than 1.5 billion children globally are unable to attend school. Teachers are innovating to provide online lessons while parents are manically trying to juggle work life while keeping their children entertained. Could it be that focusing on nature and climate change in a virtual setting is the solution?

EIT InnoEnergy seems to think so. EIT InnoEnergy is an innovation engine for sustainable energy across Europe, focusing on all aspects of the education spectrum, from classroom to end-customer, with a focus on a “human-centric” approach to technological advancements that will assist with the decarbonisation of the energy sector.

“We’ll need people with digital skills,” Frank Gielen, education director at InnoEnergy tells edie. “As green and low-carbon technology become more commonplace, you need people that are good with data and figuring out the patterns.

“We want to motivate students to choose these types of careers and we need to invest in human capital as well as financial capital to overcome the skills and knowledge gap.”

The growth in low-carbon solutions is evident. Utility-scale solar PV and onshore wind are now the cheapest forms of new-build energy generation across two-thirds of the global population while the costs of battery storage systems have halved since 2018.

But while technology is growing at a pace to help deliver radical cuts in emissions for some nations, the “green job” sector is moving at a near-glacial pace in comparison.

The number of jobs in renewable energy in the UK has plunged by nearly a third in recent years, but a study from the REA has claimed that the UK Government can deliver an 85% increase in renewable and clean technology jobs in a decade by implementing better taxation systems and outlining a roadmap for net-zero emissions.

When we reach the 2030s and 2040s, it will be the school children of today who will be the key workers spurring decarbonisation levels in line with the net-zero ambition. As such, the lockdown, where children are crying out for engaging tasks and content, could be the way to ignite interest amongst the key green workers of the future.

EIT InnoEnergy has partnered with one of the best-selling games of all time to launch a new game-based learning module to teach children about sustainable energy.

The Minecraft: Education Edition will attempt to help the 1.5 billion students affected by school closures worldwide due to coronavirus. The module has initially been developed for 9 to 15-year-olds by EIT InnoEnergy in partnership with KU Leuven and Minecraft creator Blockworks and teaches children about how sustainable energy can be used to power cities built in Minecraft.

Minecraft Director of Learning Programs, Adam Tratt says: “The combination of fun in-game energy challenges and relevant learning content makes us especially excited to bring this amazing set of Minecraft worlds to classrooms and homes around the world for Earth Day.”

Since its launch on April 11, the modules, called the Lumen city challenge and Lumen power challenges have been downloaded more than five million times.

Gielen notes that the modules were first create more than five years ago in partnership with a selection of universities. The games were unveiled at small-scale fair and Gielen claims the original reception was “good”. To boost engagement, EIT InnoEnergy reached out to Blockworks to launch the games of Minecraft’s Education severs.

There is clearly an interest in sustainability and climate change amongst the younger generation.

Virtual climate

The global climate strikes movement pioneered by Greta Thunberg became a global phenomenon in 2019, with more than 10 million people, the majority school children, taking to the streets in September for a global climate strike.

While the climate strikes have moved online, EIT InnoEnergy are hoping to tap into the appetite for change amongst this demographic in order to broaden their understanding of the solutions to the climate crisis, namely technological innovation.

“The climate strikes and debates on climate change don’t necessarily inform people about the solutions that are available,” Gielen adds. “Playing Lumen, you can start to understand what solutions are available and it’s a nice addition of the debate.

“The goal of the game is to create awareness amongst the youngest players and we hope those young people who are interested in the sustainable energy transition remember InnoEnergy and the companies at the forefront of the transition and will want to join us where we can train them and make them leaders in the energy transition.

“We want to show you can learn by building and by doing, and not just through lectures and books.”

EIT InnoEnergy isn’t the only organisation seeking to broaden the younger generation’s understanding of sustainable energy, although it is probably the most advanced.

The American media organisation TED, for example launched an “Earth School” as part of its Educational arm. Earth School is supported by more than 30 organisations including WWF, the BBC and National Geographic, that have combined to deliver interactive resources that focus around nature and the impact of production.

Two years ago, Danish toymaker Lego partnered with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to create functioning wind turbines made from Lego’s sustainable material bricks. But in the era of interactive technology, building is becoming much more digital.

Whether the children engaging with Earth School or Lumen take further steps into the field of sustainable business remains to be seen. Regardless though, the more people that are educated on the sustainable energy transition, the more that will be aware of the challenges and opportunities moving forward.

Gielen summarises the need for these types of platforms nicely. “There’s a need for societal transformation”, he says. “It’s not just about the engineers or sustainable professionals of tomorrow, everyone needs to be aware of the migration towards sustainable energy.”

edie’s Communications and Reporting online sessions

On Thursday 7 May, edie hosted three back-to-back online events on sustainability and reporting best-practice. Featuring speakers from Toast Ale, Capgemini, Innocent and others, the free events are perfect for those looking to revamp approaches to engagement during lockdown.

Watch the sessions here.

Matt Mace

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