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It's good to talk


Apparently my view last week that saving the planet must come higher on the G8 agenda than boosting aid to Africa is wrong. According to the emails and button-holing I have received over the last few days, I have either been sucked in by eco-spin or have failed to grasp the power of the economic tools now being wielded on Africa.

Fantastic! Of course I don't agree, but I am thrilled: first, that anyone bothered to read what I wrote, but also to know that engineers are thinking about the issues beyond the edge of their desks.

My bedside now has two new additions courtesy of my educators. First is the well known The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg, a deep thinking Scandanavian who I am assured will boot me (and I presume the Royal Society and the world's leading science academies) back to environmental reality. The preponderance of facts and footnotes has always put me off in the past but I'll give it my best shot this time.

The second book is the smaller but equally well reviewed The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, former economics advisor to UN secretary general Kofi Annan and a man described by rock star Bono (who chips in with the foreword) as being able to 'bring life to statistics' - which is promising. I have been told repeatedly that this book will change my life - well I suppose at least I now have a copy. I am just into chapter one so, again, I will keep you posted.

Mind you, faced with last week's statement by G8 scientists on climate change, there will have to be something pretty convincing in these books before I start marching to Edinburgh.

That said, I am looking forward to being better informed about these important issues.

The problems in Africa are, I know, too serious to be simply dismissed. It is a discussion we need to have.

It is a discussion that civil engineers need to have.

As you may have gathered, I am desperate that debate on issues like this is continuously sparked among civil engineering professionals. Society needs our input.

It was, after all, for just this purpose that the ICE was set up in 1818. The original Institution was a coming together of like minds to talk about professional, technical, business and social issues over a coffee.

All manner of issues were chewed over, including, crucially, how to turn ideas about the needs of society into politically supportable projects.

For the last 33 years NCE has helped the profession continue this debate. It is a vital role. The profession has grown enormously from the days of the coffee shop to over 70,000 professionals worldwide, and NCE has helped to keep the community informed and entertained, and has stimulated professional minds to discuss the issues of our day.

This week we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ICE's decision to sell NCE to publisher Emap. In many ways it is a strange event to celebrate as, for the reader, it should not matter who the owner is. What is important is that NCE still continues to provide the vital stimulation that keeps the entire profession thinking, discussing and debating each week.

I am committed to making this happen and as you will see from the new partnering charter between NCE and ICE on page 30, everyone at the ICE is similarly behind NCE as the independent voice for the profession. Long may the debate continue.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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