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To be seen and heard


I worry that the civil engineering profession still fails to grasp just how important its future role could be in leading the world towards a more sustainable future.

Without question we know what should be done in the best interests of responsible development, but I fear we still continue simply to service client needs.

Too often we use our skills to solve problems rather than using our authority to shift thinking towards creating better solutions.

Perhaps I am being too idealistic. After all, as our cover story on Dubai's phenomenal construction boom highlights this week, the lure of multi-billion dollar contracts will always be at hand to override the big picture.

However, I am convinced that if the profession is to reclaim its once lauded position as the guardian of the global built and natural environment - capable of saving lives and creating better living conditions - we cannot allow this to happen.

With two weeks before the general election, it is a pretty safe bet right now that Tony Blair will be leading Britain's chairmanship of the G8 summit in Scotland this July. For civil engineers this event must be large on the radar. We cannot underestimate how important the outcome will be for our profession.

Labour's manifesto promises 'to reach agreement on the long term goals and action needed to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere' and to initiate 'effective international action to adapt to the impact of climate change'. If Blair or his successor do this, we should see a major opportunity for our profession.

We are talking about the need to fi nd very real alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels, while boosting energy efficiency. There is also a need to increase recycling and the value of recycled material, while reducing waste, and controlling transport congestion and fl ooding. We must also work with developing nations to help them up the learning curve.

None of these issues is straightforward. All will require strong leadership from credible professionals if they are to be solved and ingrained into life.

Yet civil engineers are without question in pole position to take on the challenges.

Of course, past experience uggests that even Blair the global statesman will have a tough few days at the G8 meeting. Yet if he gets even a small way to achieving consensus on these issues, we will get a listening ear and an opportunity to bring forward ideas that we know will make a massive difference.

So, as always, the priority is to ensure that it is our ideas and talents the government turns to when it seeks solutions. This makes it vital that we are seen and respected as a profession that not only has the answers, but has the credibility and conscience actually to carry them through.

While a realistic balance must be struck, we must ensure that we continue to uphold our professional responsibility to plan, design and construct with the whole (global) community in mind. That may or may not be what the client first envisaged and we must work hard to defend our professional integrity.

No matter who is leading the government, our big reward will come from leading its thinking and showing that there are different, more sustainable, ways to achieve the same outcomes. If we settle for simply earning a buck carrying out other people's wishes, we condemn our profession to a very bleak future.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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