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We are the ones that can conquer this climate challenge

Engineers will be vital to improve infrastructure and deal with climate change in the coming years. But engineers willing to step in and take the lead are needed even more says NCE’s editor, Antony Oliver

This week’s government transport announcement underlines what a colossal infrastructure mess we are in right now.

While the green light for a third runway at Heathrow may be seen by some as a vital step in returning the nation to economic prosperity, the reality is that it will instead do untold damage to our equally challenging carbon reduction aspirations.

Some describe the third runway decision as a least bad option given the competing pressures of economic growth, travel demands and environmental protection. And transport secretary Geoff Hoon has, of course, dressed the decision up with guarantees of flight caps and emission controls. They are nice thoughts but deep down who believes that anyone will stick to them? And who then believes that climate change minister Ed Miliband’s 80% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2050 becomes anything other than a load of hot air?

Make no mistake, this is a global emergency. While we revel with excited anticipation of Barack Obama’s US presidency, weekend press stories reported that he had just four years to act to save the planet. Whichever way you look at it, we are in scary times. Because let’s face it, even if it is 30 years we have still got a massive problem. Or should I say our children have.

The global environmental challenge is huge and we must be prepared to react now in a serious and concerted way. While air travel is not the only contributor to climate change it is without question a major factor. Unless we take a lead and tackle it head on to reverse growth we will not hit our declared CO2 reduction targets. Put simply, last week’s decision and the reaction to it demonstrated graphically that as a nation we are just not worried enough about the impact of climate change. But there is hope.

President Obama said in his recent book the Audacity of Hope: “I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers.” We must use this moment to make a stand and start to make the solutions to this global challenge happen.

The announcement of the new High Speed Two and Heathrow hub rail projects are welcome and they must happen. They must be put in place now without delay and used to demonstrate that there really is an alternative to short-haul and internal flights. And we then need greater incentives to wean people off aircraft and onto high speed rail, out of cars and into decent modern public transport.

Obama wants more engineers. I’d say we actually need more engineers with passion and the balls to make a difference. More engineers to convince the likes of Gordon Brown and David Cameron that a low carbon future is the only future.

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