Thinking Beyond Oil: Museums to Mold Mindsets
February 21, 2014
In downtown Riyadh, a new museum combines pumps and levers with touch-screen technology to teach Saudi schoolchildren about energy. The museum, Mishkat, encourages the 400 or so students who visit daily to envision a future in which the world—and Saudi Arabia—is less dependent on oil for either energy or money.
Mishkat is an initiative of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), the authority tasked with implementing Saudi Arabia’s ambitious goals to develop non-oil energy sources. KACARE aims to develop a mix of solar, nuclear, waste, geothermal, and wind energy to meet up to 30 percent of domestic energy needs by 2032. KACARE projects that Saudi Arabia’s energy use will triple from 2010 to 2028. Multiple studies have warned that if the Kingdom continues to rely almost entirely on oil and gas for energy, rising domestic consumption patterns will end the Kingdom’s role as a global exporter as soon as 2030. A visit to Mishkat begins with a 15-minute video called “The Kingdom of Renewable Energy” that lays out the argument for diversification with a positive, idealistic tone that belies the existential threat of current trends.
The museum fits within a broader Saudi effort to expose children to engaging applications of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to encourage them to study these fields. But the museum designers and the policymakers behind it also want people to stop thinking of oil as a blessing that obviates the need for alternatives. More than just about science, it’s about changing how Saudis think about the very foundations of their nation.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.