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Leading from the front

Comment

Despite anything my wife says to the contrary, it is rare that I play golf at the weekend. Yet last Saturday morning I had a remarkable round.

Remarkable not for my performance, of course - that was very unremarkable. No, it was remarkable for the fact that I played the last 14 holes in short sleeves. That's shortsleeves in mid-November.

Winter sunshine is one thing, but winter sunshine with heat is quite another. And while it was very nice to wander around the Surrey countryside chatting in the warmth, this is surely worrying. Climate change is clearly and indisputably with us.

Alas, prime minister Tony Blair has been too busy introducing - or trying to introduce - radical policy reforms in law and order, education and health, to have noticed this fact.

This is a shame because you do not have to waste a morning playing golf to find the evidence.

he environmental lobby knows this and has at last been forced to speak out against Blair's lack of action to take the UK - and the rest of the world - down a path towards meeting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Blair continues to promote himself as the leader capable of taking the big decisions, the leader who prefers to fail doing the right thing rather than succeed doing the wrong. It is hard to equate this with the visible evidence when it comes to policies to save the planet - Blair has really done no more than talk about it.

And if this is not disappointing enough, we then had to read comments this week by the chief scientific offi cer Sir David King - the independent expert representing the views of, among others, all engineers - defending the UK government's environmental policy record. His comments compound the problem and do us all a disservice.

Of course I understand the diffi culty of balancing the nation's economic competitiveness with controls on CO 2 emissions.

I understand that in a global economy a small shift in policy could wipe out entire industries and thousands of jobs.

And I understand and agree that, faced, for example, with 500 new coal fi red power stations in China, new technologies will have to make the major contribution towards reducing man's impact on the planet. But when and at what point do we start investing in clean power- When the coal/oil/gas runs out- When we run out of nuclear waste storage space?

Next Thursday at Civils 2005, Environment Agency chair Barbara Young will lead a discussion devoted to environmental and sustainability issues. This will be a great opportunity for civil engineers to turn their minds to the greatest challenge of this generation.

Certainly our profession fi nds itself at the sharp end of dealing with and planning for the consequences of Man's environmental neglect. Be it fl ooding, hurricanes, water shortage or the myriad of other 'new' natural disasters, we fi nd ourselves increasingly forced to innovate to find the solutions needed to keep life in the today's world going.

That is certainly one important concern for the profession. But I hope that we also fi nd the energy to prompt civil engineers to tackle the issues nearer to the source of the problem and drive the debate rather than respond simply to the consequences of policy.

The profession cannot sit back complacently and, like Sir David King, insist that we are doing a great job. We must raise our game and realise that our talents are better employed addressing the causes and not simply dealing with the effects.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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