Ahead of his appearance at Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference in November, Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn AO (Retd), Board Chair, Institute of Integrated Economic Research – Australia explains why engineers must be involved in public debate about the future of the nation.
When we think of national resilience beyond the COVID-19 response, the path we’ll take over the next few decades has to address a multitude of things.
Climate, for example, is very closely related to energy, which is closely related to the economy. Collectively, they are all closely linked to infrastructure. All of these extremely complex systems are interconnected.
For example, if we look at Australia’s fuel security, the government paid a fee to the remaining four refineries to remain open until 2027 and will also mandate stockholding levels.
However, look just a little deeper and you quickly realise we must address fuel security by not just keeping refineries open, but also by weaning ourselves off imported fuel. If we do that intelligently, it has significant benefits.
If we plan it as a transition then we can address emissions, energy security and resilience all at once. But to do it right, we must look at sovereignty and foreign investment, the economy, energy, transport, industry, supply chains, maritime trade and climate change. We need to increase our fragile electricity system by two or three times.
And that’s just the fuel piece!
You can say the same thing for any other piece of the puzzle because our societal systems are complex and interlinked.
Here’s the rub. The government is not structured to be able to address the design challenge of how we transform our society to address climate change and energy security.
Infrastructure and resilience challenges cover an enormous range of issues that can’t be managed by any single Minister.
Actually, what we’ve got is a very complicated system engineering problem. The thinking that needs to be done to understand how the complex pieces move together, and to design an approach, is a complex engineering task.
We have a need for engineers who can work at the complex system level to be involved in the public debate about coordinated pathways and targets. To achieve a more resilient and energy-secure society, with an affordable energy system and low or no emissions, we need input and deep knowledge from various cohorts of engineers.
Engineers have the training, experience and ability to do a system-level design. Now our job is to encourage and motivate them to do so.
If we are prepared to take the advice of health scientists during a pandemic, and of climate scientists during weather events, we also need to take the advice of engineers when looking at options for a complex transformation of our society.
Hear more from John Blackburn at the Climate Smart Engineering conference. To register to attend, visit www.eacse.com.au.