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Confront reality

Jackie Whitelaw's assessment of men is confrontational ('Hormone imbalance', NCE 29 October). From the tone of her article, I thought it was men who were supposed to be confrontational.

Most sensible males and females have moved beyond the attitudes she depicts. I have worked with female civil engineers who have been as good and as bad as male civil engineers.

When the lack of male role models in primary schools is cited, the standard reply is that a good female teacher can overcome this problem.

Perhaps male civil engineers can also overcome the gender stereotype that Jackie Whitelaw is trying to pin on us. I, rather than my wife do most of the shopping for food. It may surprise Ms Whitelaw, but I can tell the difference between an apple pie and a cheesecake.

I firmly believe in equality of opportunity and the need for training and the development of civil engineering careers for both men and women. I believe that there is a need to bring the conditions of civil engineering up to the best practice of the 1990s to allow greater flexibility of working hours and methods. This does not entail the political correctness the article puts forward.

Has anyone asked women if they want to be forced to become civil engineers to satisfy Ms Whitelaw's quota system? Perhaps women should be allowed the right choose their profession. We should all welcome those who enter civil engineering irrespective of gender, while respecting the wishes of those who want to do something else.

A James (M), 9 Colwyn Terrace, Hundred House, Llandrindod, Powys LD1 5RY.

Environment policy response

The ICE's environment and sustainability board is puzzled by the lack of response to its environmental policy statements (NCE 15 October).

Board chairman Peter Braithwaite says: 'It needs to be hammered home that these policy statements are Institution policy and should be followed'. Now I know that, some comment is necessary.

No doubt the statements have been the subject of much internal debate to try and provide a balanced view, and balance is needed, but not to the extent of forcing us all down the middle road. Like engineering, the environment is not simply a matter of right and wrong - 'there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so'.

The main purpose of the policy statements should be to encourage engineers to recognise that there are no unique right answers. They should explicitly state that a balanced view can be achieved only if the bounds of a problem are explored.

Statements such as 'reducing road traffic congestion... if necessary through charging ... should be a particularly high priority', 'contaminated land must be remediated ...', 'removing contaminated materials to landfill should be avoided as it presents no net benefits...' identify only one side of the argument.

Is the ESB confident that these and similar statements are ultimate truths to be accepted without debate and that they can be applied anywhere in the world? They may help to identify environmental benefits but they can also hide the potential for much harm. Unless both the good and the bad have been identified in any environmental issue, one has not understood the problem. How many of us identified the 'downside'of unleaded petrol? How many are aware of the horrific effects of exporting western ideas on recycling to some developing countries?

May I suggest three actions:

A framing document should be developed which explains the role of the statements. Is a member allowed to disagree? Are they inalienable policy or prompts to help with environmental analysis?

Meetings should be held to empower the members to make their input on the form and content of the statements.

In their present form the statements are not an exciting read. I would like to see them as posters that could hold pride of place. Please can the statements be worked up in some more memorable and user friendly form, pictures, bubble diagrams, bullet points. Flag up the issues, encourage debate.

Finally, just to confirm that I have read them, please note that the statement on contaminated land should refer to 'controlled waters' not 'controlled waste'. Also it should it be made clear that parts of the legisation that are referenced have yet to be brought into force.

Professor Stephan Jefferis (M), Talbot Lodge, Ardley Road, Middleton Stoney, Oxon OX6 8SE.


Numbers please

Can the authors of the ICE environmental policy statement tell us how much the levels of road traffic should be reduced overall?

ID Jones (F), ID Jones Consultants, 20 York Place, Leeds LS1 2EX.

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