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Global water shortages emerge as engineers’ greatest concern

More than a third of engineers fear that global water shortages and economic meltdowns pose the greatest threat to civilisation in the coming 40 years, according to the findings of a survey by NCE.

To mark NCE’s 40th year, engineers were asked for their imagined view of what their world and society will look like in another 40 years. Some 36% of respondents expressed their concern over water shortages just ahead of 27% who feared an increase in economic crises in developed nations.

Both risks were considered far greater than those posed by war (7%), floods (5%), famine (3%), earthquakes (2%) or tsunami (no votes). Fears that one superpower would become too dominant was cited by 14% of engineers.

An overwhelming majority of 66% of respondents said that China would be this superpower. The next closest was India on 15%, with Bric counterparts Russia and Brazil only receiving 2% and 1% of the vote respectively. The US and Europe received a cursory 8% and 3% of votes respectively.

Engineers’ expectation of a shift in power toward new global markets was clearly highlighted when asked about what kind of firm civil engineers would be working for in 2052.

A staggering 86% believed their firm would be foreign-owned, with a hefty 42% expecting it to have over 10,000 employees.

While 46% expected their firm to remain a traditional contractor or consultant organisation, 54% thought it would be more of a project manager (34%) or programme manager (20%) set-up. Recent takeovers of Halcrow and Scott Wilson by US giants CH2M Hill and URS are examples of this.

While a large majority expect their firms to be owned by international parents, a smaller majority — 59% — expect that they would be working internationally if at the same point in their careers as now.

The most likely international base would be the Bric nations, with 20% expecting to be lured there.

Australia, Africa and South East Asia appear to have similar appeal with 9%, 8% and 7% envisaging careers stimulating migration to those regions. North America along with the Middle East, which has offered great opportunities in recent times, were less likely to pull in workers, with just 3% and 4% favouring these areas.

Despite the infinite challenges likely to test engineers in the coming decades, there remains great pessimism over whether an increase in stature and regard for civil engineers will be forthcoming — more than four out of five (83%) respondents said that they believed doctors would still be better paid and receive higher accolades in 2052.

Among the hurdles to be overcome the issue over how energy policy will evolve alongside a desire to conquer the low carbon challenge were at the forefront.

An ambitious 47% believe that nuclear power will be the principal energy source for homes in 2052, despite confusing signals from the government and private sector of late epitomised by the former’s abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the withdrawal of German energy giants Eon and RWE from nuclear developer Horizon.

The government’s much lauded support for wind power failed to translate into civil engineers’ support, with only 5% believing it will be the primary source compared with solar, which convinced 25% of respondents, waste and gas (both 8%) and hydro (6%).

The faith in nuclear is bolstered by the view of 67% who also feel that nuclear fusion reactors will be operating.

But this enduring belief in the ability of nuclear power to fulfil our needs is not equalled by the engineers’ view of our capability to reduce carbon emissions in 40 years’ time - asked whether most building materials would be carbon free by 2052 only 37% were convinced it could happen and not quite half felt that government targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 would be met.

Readers' comments (4)


    Perhaps now that it is clear that only 5% of ICE members think wind power will provide a primary source for energy supplies, the Institution should as a matter of policy immediately withdraw its support for this expensive and wasteful con trick.

    By the way, since when was engineer spelt "engi-neer"? Shame on NCE!

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  • The publishing errors have now been corrected.

  • informative but very badly written. When are we going to revert to the higher literary standards of 20 years ago?

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  • It would appear that civil engineers are quite out of touch with the latest research and policy regarding renewables and low carbon technology. To read a comment that states wind power is expensive is extremely worrying and ill informed. Read the research and the data widely available on the web. By 2030 wind power will be the second cheapest major technology second to gas. It is important that engineers do not decend in to biased rhetoric and instead use the widely available objective data at our disposal.

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  • Engineers should base their opinions on facts, not specultion about what might (or might not) be true in nearly 20 year's time. Jonathan Meredith's reasoning is the same as that used 60 years ago to say that nuclear generation would be so cheap that electricity would be unmetered.

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