Readers often write in to create magazine to discuss issues affecting the engineering profession. Here, one reader writes about the ability of engineers to keep up with the challenges posed by a growing population.
What do rising house prices, global warming, terrorism, civil war, famine, economic crisis, traffic chaos and pandemics all have in common?
They are all sustained by challenges linked to the exponential increase in world population.
We have had a sevenfold population increase over the very short period that started with the Industrial Revolution. This is mostly thanks to modern medicine and basic technologies such as refrigeration and sanitised water. However, this rapid increase in survival poses new population challenges for society, and there is no greater reminder of this than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Engineers are being called upon now to address many of the resulting challenges. Our brightest minds must find solutions for increases in population density and requirements for power and water, as well as food shortages and stockpiles of waste.
Engineers are having to adjust more quickly than we feel comfortable with and are being required to work outside of proven systems. We are now being driven to innovate faster than ever.
How can we keep pace with these challenges and still manage the risks involved? Typically, there is slower take-up of technology in civil engineering. Compared to electronics, for example, it can take more time to implement and commercialise new ideas.
Understandably many fields of civil engineering involve a high consequence of failure. Tunnelling, for example, includes potential catastrophic and unimaginable outcomes when things go wrong, as they have at times in the past.
In the construction industry, another stumbling block for most innovation is the requirement for it to be highly commercially compelling. This not only helps justify the risk being taken but also covers the cost of additional comprehensive testing and peer review.
Disappointingly, this commercial requirement has continued to hamper innovation that may have environmental benefits. Due to these commercial drivers, we as engineers need to not only come up with new ideas and implement them, but also to articulate the need for innovation with data, facts and a persuasive story around the problem and the solution.
Sadly much of the discussion around topics such as global warming is being led by politically and commercially motivated groups, not scientists and engineers. Engineers need to stand up and be heard on these topics.
Given the rapid and ongoing increase in our population, engineers will have no choice but to continue innovating faster than ever.
We need to be better at shaping popular opinion so that good ideas are supported. Our ability to provide compelling dialogue around the problem and our solution holds the key to keeping ahead of the demands created by increasing populations.
Daniel Bosco FIEAust
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