Evidence that emissions of the so-called 'greenhouse'gases are increasingly leading to climate change is very strong.Within the last few years, scientists have increased their predictions of global warming dramatically.Recently the Met Office spoke about the possibility of an increase of 8degrees this century alone. This, coupled with likely extremes in weather patterns, would have a severe effect on all life.
As I write,5,000 climate change experts from 180 countries are meeting in The Hague in an attempt to reach a global agreement on the mechanisms for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. We wish them well, for the sake of the planet.
A rapidly increasing population, with aspirations to live as we do in the Western world, will increasingly put huge strains on the earth's natural resources. These resources are being depleted at a greater rate than they are being regenerated. It is said that if all the world's population lived as we do in the West, we would need about five earths to sustain us.
Clearly the way we live is not sustainable: we are not 'meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (the UN's 1980s definition of sustainability).
Engineers have, in the past, contributed to global environmental problems, by facilitating large-scale destruction of the natural environment 'for the benefit of mankind'(the so-called harnessing nature for these apparent 'benefits' was the definition of civil engineering) with little thought of the wider consequences.
We have engineered the development of land, energy, mining, transportation and other forms of infrastructure, all of which has had a profound influence on population growth and consumption patterns.
We generate huge amounts of waste and little of it is being recycled. The construction industry is a prime generator of waste - some 70 million tonnes each year. Would it surprise you to learn that 20% of this is unused materials?
We assume that the earth can absorb any amount of waste products. We are also responsible for a lot of 'intangible' waste, by the inefficient planning and execution of our projects.
While we have played our part in the development of these problems and practices, I believe we can play a key role in implementing sustainable practices. We have the training and experience to play our part, along with colleagues from other disciplines, in all aspects of sustainability, including the environmental, economic, social and resource dimensions.
As stakeholders of this earth, we need to live our lives in a more sustainable way. We should pretend that we are here to stay forever, not just dropping in for a weekend visit. As engineers, we need to look at the whole-life impact of a project - what resources are used, how user friendly it is, how energy efficient it is and what its impact on the community and on nature will be.
As ground engineers, we need to make our ground engineering works more sustainable. Are we designing efficiently? Are we undertaking effective site investigations to minimise 'unforeseen' ground conditions?
Statements made or opinions expressed in GROUND ENGINEERING do not necessarily reflect the views of the BGA.
(Some progress in this area may come about through an AGS initiative to devise a system for benchmarking site investigations). Are we endeavouring to reuse foundations? Are we dealing with contamination on site, rather than sending it to landfill?
Let us be at the vanguard of sustainability, for the sake of our children, and their children.