The Responsibility of Engineers for the Future of the Environment

We have been aware in general for some time now of the fragility of nature.  Notions of human dominion over nature or the inexhaustibility and self renewing capabilities of nature are fading away.  Climate change deniers are still heard but their influence is waning.

I am persuaded by the arguments of Bill McKibben and others that we have passed a tipping point and that neither conservation nor innovative technology can hope to restore our natural environment where the ravaging effects of global climate change will not degrade the quality of life to which the human community has come to expect.  Around the globe drought and flood conditions will alternate and intensify, influencing every aspect of our lives.  Food shortages, plant and animal species extinctions, air and water pollution and other ecological failures will challenge human life on earth.  Those of us with grandchildren especially mourn what we have bequeathed  the future.  Wherein can we rest our hope?

Engineers, as prominent guardians of the built environment, need carefully to rethink their role as civil societies reshape themselves in response to the consequences of degradations of life that ensue from nature's changes. What should engineers do? How can they resist the demands growth economies for evermore production and energy consumption? What specifically should the engineering approach be to issues of sustainability and renewability? 

This is a topic I plan to devote some attention to in the coming months, with a particular focus on how received cultural values in China and India influence the process of collaboration on common water management issues.

In 2011 I discussed the theme of Engineering's Responsibility for the Environment with particular reference to China's use of coal for energy production to a group in Capetown, South Africa.  You can see the slides from my presentation here.