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Sustainability | Making the right decisions

Cover transport 1b cropped

Some letters published in New Civil Engineer in the last three months show deep concern about decisions around major infrastructure projects. I share these concerns. In my view, urgent review is needed.

Some engineering is exceptional. For example, energy demand management is making power station operation more efficient. And domestic batteries to store solar energy are securing power for delivery to the grid when needed. There is now little danger of our lights going out in winter. For many reasons, why carry on with new nuclear power stations?

A more alarming aspect of major projects is their contribution to Earth overshoot – we are presently consuming the resources of one and a half planets. Together with overpopulation, and its more destructive twin, overconsumption, humans are fast wiping out their only home.

Nearly 1bn people (about 11% of us) go to bed hungry every night. They are at near-collapse.

Twenty million people now face famine in four countries. To me that is collapse: death, the end. It’s on our planet, happening now.

I think we engineers need to be leaders of major change. Without change, these terrible triplets – overshoot, overpopulation and overconsumption – will spread collapse like a rash. More than ever, engineering needs to be of the right kind and in the right place.

  • Norman Pasley (M)

I applaud you addressing sustainability and climate change and correctly identifying it as the challenge of our generation (New Civil Engineer, April). You ask the correct questions. Is money finding its way to the right projects? Is the civils fraternity doing the right things?

Your research reassuringly suggests they are, you state. I don’t have to look far to find evidence to the contrary. Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. With this in mind, consider the content of this edition.

Your rail analysis article stated that the UK government is considering a halfway house approach to electrification. The Interview discusses Heathrow’s third runway and uses the word “sustainable” without appreciating the true meaning of the word. Tech Excellence highlights the “need” for a triple-deck road interchange.

World View describes the technical challenge of building a garden bridge between skyscrapers in a city in an area with low levels of basic sanitation.

If I have to explain why each of these schemes is not sustainable, in the true meaning of the word, then the campaign has a long way to go to not be simply a tip of the hat to the latest industry buzzword.

I also suggest that if civil engineering in the 21st century is to be considered as anything other than adding to the problem, the Royal Charter should be updated to reflect a world where our understanding of the consequences of our actions is better but not fully understood. Your survey asks if we are ready to save the world. Let’s not kid ourselves that token gestures such as Bridges to Prosperity are enough.

Missing the mark?

Bear with me in pointing out the incongruity between your focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and the article about the Kolkata garden bridge (New Civil Engineer, April 2017). While I am aware that there is demand for £1.2M apartments in large Indian cities, the absence of any mention of the disparity between the lives of rich and poor in the article while it focuses in on the (very clever) bearings required is a clear demonstration of the failure of many engineers to engage with the bigger picture.

The residents will not be so fortunate, as the view from their bridge is unlikely to be quite as utopian as the publicity shots, even if it slides beautifully on its mountings.

Global housing group Reall works on affordable housing solutions in 15 countries around the world with an average purchase price of £7,115. We carry our own stressful engineering challenges such as dealing with black cotton soil, decentralised sewage treatment, affordable SUDs and many others. With hundreds of millions of people in cities around the world demanding affordable housing, solutions to these small scale challenges will have major developmental impacts.

  • Andrew Maclean

Dust busting

I seem to have been coughing and spluttering a lot lately. At first I put it down to irritation about the new council road sweepers not sweeping our road. However, reminders have now resulted in their regular attention, and I’m still spluttering! “Fighting for air” (New Civil Engineer May) explains it. “PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter from tyres and brakes is more harmful than gas pollutants” and is the explanation of my continued spluttering and why (in semi-retirement) I have begun to notice how quickly our windowsills and bookshelves become dusty.

Can I suggest regular sluicing, rather than sweeping, of roads to wash away these easily moved small particles (fine-medium silt-sized, 2.5-10 microns)? This would reduce the number of them that waft around in the air to be inhaled with such harmful effects to health. Pilot schemes outside schools could lead to immediate improvements in children’s health.

  • Rod Bridle (F)

Something different

If anyone doubts whether the campaign to attract more women into engineering has been successful, then they should read the May edition of New Civil Engineer. As I read it I began to wonder, as the pages were turned, if it was a special issue highlighting the role of women in civil engineering, but despite several looks at the cover and re-reads of the editorial to check, it appeared to be a normal edition. Not only was the entire content written by women, but all of the people in key positions mentioned in every article are women. And all of the letters were from women. I am certainly not complaining and it proves that I found it all worth reading. Congratulations to the deputy editor – Alexandra Wynne!

  • Ken Martin (M),

Is a wall the best solution for Trump?

Border wall at tijuana and san diego border

Border wall at tijuana and san diego border

Mexico Wall: Old fashioned solution?

Your Comment poses the question: “Is the civil engineering fraternity doing the right things?” (New Civil Engineer, April 2017). Six pages later, your news item noted “US seeks bids for Trump Mexico wall” without political comment, unlike page 7 where you mention that the global commitment to tackling climate change is likely to remain despite the change in US President.

Building a wall may have been appropriate for the Romans, but we should be backing projects which are bring nations together rather than creating new barriers. In this new century civil engineers need to clearly voice their opinions as did Thomas Telford 200 years ago.

  • Peter Mason (M)

Someone else’s fault

I take exception to the cult of “mea culpa” now common in the politically correct world, and now infecting New Civil Engineer (May 2017). As a civil engineer it is not my responsibility or duty to ensure that motor vehicle exhaust emissions are not harmful. That is the duty of public health officers and mechanical engineers. It is, however, blindingly obvious to anyone trapped behind a stationary bus.

In spite of this and other evidence that diesel emissions are filthy and smoke ridden, the public was encouraged by the government and the automotive industry to forego the reliable clean petrol engine in order to enjoy extra miles per gallon and tax incentives in transferring to diesel.

Well, now the chickens have come home to roost. Who is going to compensate motorists for having been induced to buy an expensive piece of machinery that no-one any longer wants?

Not the public purse I trust.

  • Leonard Rosten  (F)

Refreshing change

 Congratulations on producing the all-female May print issue. I only spotted it when I saw the advert for UK Transport on page 74 and was surprised to see an all-female lineup of speakers. It made me go back to the beginning and look a little closer. Just goes to show that there are actually quite a lot of us out there!

  • Janet Nelson, Comment posted on story headed May 2017

 @ncedigital May 2017 edition is written by and contributed to exclusively from women! How refreshing to see our industry reflected this way!

  • Kevin Patel @kev_patel, via Twitter

Really enjoying reading this month’s @ncedigital. Also, it’s great to see so many female contributers!

  • ICE gsyh @icegsyh, viaTwitter

Case for regional Airports

 In response to letters in the April 2017 edition of New Civil Engineer regarding airport expansion in the South East. I agree that expansion needs to be moved away from the South East, or at least expansion in the South East needs to be delayed and/or reduced. However, you cannot just invest in airports elsewhere without knowing whether that investment will be returned.

There needs to be an attraction for the airlines to operate from regional airports, and it is not just about getting the passengers there. It is about airport operators creating good business cases to attract airlines to operate from regional airports.

They must increase shareholder value from having new or more airlines and routes. If the price is right the airport operators will benefit by increasing flights and the airlines will benefit by increasing the number of passengers they carry and therefore income from ticket and other sales. 

Edinburgh Airport is an excellent example of a regional airport taking up some “traffic” (passengers) that might otherwise use the UK South East airports or other European airports to reach further destinations. Over the last decade, it has gradually increased its passenger numbers from 8.6M in 2006 to 12.3M in 2016, a 50% increase in 10 years. Of that 10 year increase, international passenger numbers have increased by around 75%.

The airport has done this by attracting different airlines. First it was Ryanair with a lot of point to point European destinations. Easyjet and Jet2 then built on this concept and this market is still growing. It has also been about attracting incoming passengers to fly directly into Edinburgh. Then it attracted away-based airlines to include Edinburgh in their rotations, including two lucrative Middle East carriers. Most recently the airport has attracted more North American and European airlines to operate point to point routes to the States. This has created new hubbing patterns, for example routeing from Edinburgh through Abu Dhabi to Sydney, or from Edinburgh through Reykjavik to Beijing.

Airport expansion in the South East is inevitable but in order to minimise and delay perhaps the government needs to focus on how to incentivise regional airports to attract airlines.

And it would please me to see that ICE members and other New Civil Engineer readers remember that every good project and piece of infrastructure has supporting it a good business case; the decision about whether and where to expand airports is no different.

  • Christina Moorhouse (M)






Readers' comments (1)

  • Whether it was a deliberate effort or not, congratulations on getting an all-female print edition of NCE out in May 2017. 46 years after its first publication, I have no doubt this was a first. I wonder how many previous editions have been 'all-male'? Journalists, interviewees, other contributors, almost all the photos, and even the adverts featured women exclusively across a range of ages and roles (our industry is changing, p43 - it may well be!)
    I cannot stress how important this is for the encouragement of more women to enter the profession. Role models are a vital tool in recruitment, and if through our publications, we can reflect a true image of an industry where women can play a significant role and succeed, we can expect more women to be interested in contributing to it.
    Well done and thank you.

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