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Your View | Addressing climate change

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May I congratulate Mark Hansford on the excellent series of articles about climate change in the February 2018 issue. These are really thought provoking and demonstrate the direction that future engineers need to follow.

I have been privileged to chair the ICE Climate Change task-force where, with a number of experts, we have been struggling with the problem of how we encourage all ICE members, and actually all in the more general engineering professions, to consider climate change in almost everything they do.

As engineers we are designing, maintaining, and operating the country’s infrastructure in a way that should be fit for the future and contribute to the wellbeing and prosperity of current and future generations.

This year, marking the ICE’s 200th anniversary, is a good reminder that our contributions today should remain active for generations to come and so need to be adaptable to the future climate, without contributing to further climate change. The science is clear, but the political reality of what will be achieved to reduce CO2 levels much less so, so the ability to adapt to the new reality is crucial.

The evidence suggests that it may not be possible to reduce CO2 sufficiently to achieve the 2°C target and active CO2 removal may be the only solution. This is essentially an engineering problem.

To emphasise the problems facing the science and engineering communities, the ICE Forensic Journal produced a themed issue on climate change hazards in May 2017. This key reference to understand current and future climate change implication is available through the ICE’s virtual library.

I also draw members’ attention to the World Federation of Engineering Organisation’s Model Code of Practice Principles for Climate Change Adaption for Engineers. This is an excellent template for all engineers and the taskforce is recommending the ICE adopt it in some way.

  • Tim Kermode (M), chair, ICE climate change taskforce,

I was alarmed when I saw the cover of the February issue, wondering whether New Civil Engineer had lost its reputation for objective reporting in favour of climate change hysteria. Was the picture of the cooling towers billowing black smoke real? Cooling towers do not do that. Is this the way you get us to take climate change more seriously? Then the red line showing the rising global CO2 emissions was not “off the chart” as your headline suggested, just still rising. Then I opened it to find, an advertisement on page 2, with a frightening picture of Tower Bridge half submerged beneath the sea, with the caption “Do you choose to sink or think?”

Your editorial Comment begins: “It’s time for an engineering revolution.” What had I been missing the last couple of years? You continue: “The science tells us that it is the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that is unquestionably the cause of climate change.” Well, some scientists tell us that and some scientists question it, so it is wrong to say “the science” does and that it is unquestionable. You then write: “We are still not using whole-life carbon emissions as the primary parameter by which we decide what gets built and how it gets built.” Why should it be the primary parameter? This sounds blinkered and desperate; how serious is climate change? Then you ask” “Will anything force a change?” Another desperate plea. Let’s avoid an engineering revolution and continue to use our common sense.

  • Graham Parkhouse (M),

Procurement questions

Dale Evans says that we must change the traditional way in which we deliver and procure our projects (New Civil Engineer, last month). I have been around quite a long time and I do not recognise current methods of procurement as being traditional. Confrontational yes, but hardly traditional or even professional. I keep reminding people of John Ruskin’s “common law of business” which in summary says that if you only pay a little then you cannot expect to get a lot.

Unfortunately even Cabinet Office staff tell us that they expect competitive prices coupled with the highest quality. Therein lies the problem – our political masters know very little about business, never mind construction.

After a quick reading of the feature I am not sure that Project 13 will deliver any improvement unless the Engineer (sic) regains his authority and stands between the client and any supplier. I see yet another profession being invented, alongside the Procurer, please welcome the Integrator.

  • Ivor Richards,

Paying the price for scrapping fixed price

I refer to your Comment on the disparity between British contractors’ skills and those on the mainland (Comment, last month). It seems to me that the fundamental difference arose from Britain abandoning fixed price contracts (ICE 4th Edition) in favour of measurement contracts (ICE 5th edition and subsequent NEC contracts), whereas mainland contractors are more used to fixed price versions (such as FIDIC’s Red Book).  

Under fixed price contracts (subject to possible priced variations), the contractor had to build what he was presented with and make good any lack of detail in it. Hence the retention of engineering competence.

  • Godfrey Ackers (F), Ocean Court, Plymouth,

Balancing the environmental with the Economic

You ask: “do any readers believe that the A303 Stonehenge conundrum cannot be solved by dualling the existing road?” (Your View, last month). I think it’s the wrong question: technically, there is no reason whatsoever; politically, there is a danger that this desperately needed scheme will be killed off yet again. The reason? Simply, that the noisy environmental lobby is not prepared to compromise. The last attempt to build this project was killed off (probably rightly) by then transport secretary Alistair Darling because of the apparent intransigence of the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust and the then English Heritage. While these bodies seem to be looking more favourably on the current proposals, it would take a brave politician to try to push through a scheme that did not involve tunnelling – and brave politicians seem to be in short supply.  

Those who know the landscape will be aware of the large numbers of barrows – so many that it is almost impossible to design a scheme that does not disturb some ancient site. However, while we must all be conscious that, to preserve our heritage, some small sacrifices must be made to allow this scheme to proceed – and the economic benefits to the South West will be enormous.

  • David Clements (M Retd)

Building on a firm technical base

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Image001 1 crop

Carillion: “Built on sand”

The March 2018 cover picture of your publication reminds me that when I was taught some of the elements of soil mechanics by Professor JKTL Nash at King’s College London, he was careful to point out that “despite Biblical references sand is good for foundations”.  

I do agree though with your editorial, in that companies engaged in civil engineering are well advised to concentrate upon getting technical things right.

  • Dennis Gedge (M), 3 Burrow Court, Exeter Road, Newton Poppleford, Devon EX10 0BJ

 Noise is a key Stonehenge factor

You ask readers to tell you whether there is any reason why the A303 road around Stonehenge should not be kept above ground in low profile cutting. There is a one-word answer: noise. Ask anybody who lives within 1km of a motorway or major arterial road about this pollution and they will tell you about the continuous 24 hour background drone that pervades their lives.

Isn’t the whole point of Stonehenge its silence and mystical solitude?

  • Martin Redston (M) 4 Edward Square, London N1 0SP

Words versus core principles

Is it me or do others see a connection between the skills deficit, highlighted by your Comment, and the obsession with the words “innovation” and “sustainability?” (New Civil Engineer, last month). Education should focus on the core engineering principles and how they are used. We did this before the words “innovation” and “sustainability” were “invented”. We should not gain just a shallow knowledge of the principles to allow us to cover more topics such as innovation and sustainability.

It is not the words, “innovation” and “sustainability”, which are important but how we use what we know. In the same edition, 11 senior members of the ICE proposed to change three words in our 1828 charter. Their time would be better spent getting back to basics and working out what the ICE could do to encourage engineers to acquire and use this greater depth of knowledge. In the context of our charter “man” doesn’t mean just the male of the species. “Directing” doesn’t mean dominion or supremacy but guiding or using.

If Tredgold’s definition of civil engineering is evocative, expressive and eloquent, it is not broken and we should concentrate on fixing the things which are.

  • Frank Marples (F)




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